THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD WED 26th NOVEMBER 2008
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“Tighter regulation of pharmaceutical advertising to doctors is needed to protect the public, a conference in Wellington will be told today.
George Jelinek, Professor of Emergency Medicine at Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, will tell the 25th annual scientific meeting of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine that much greater transparency is required.
“The pharmaceutical industry is awash with profit,” he says in notes released ahead of his speech.
“In fact, the combined profits of the top 10 drug companies in Fortune 500 has been greater than the other 490 companies’ profits combined.”
These profits, he said, went to shareholders, research and development, marketing, salaries, and “educating doctors”.
There was a loophole in the FDA regulations in that pharmaceutical companies needed to show only that a “new” drug was effective, and not that it was more effective or even as effective as current drugs.
“Conflict of interest abounds, not only for individual clinicians in respect of payments and gifts they receive, but in organisations and journals,” Professor Jelinek said.
“Drug company-sponsored research is four times as likely to be favourable to a company’s project than is independent research.”
Professor Jelinek said in an Australian survey of more than 800 medical specialists, 12.3 per cent reported that papers they “wrote” were written in the first draft by industry specialists.
Also, 5.1 per cent reported that they did not publish research findings which were negative.
Marketing of drugs was often disguised as education, and doctors attending pharmaceutical events were more likely to use the product, even without scientific evidence, he said.
“Some large, heavily promoted drugs have subsequently caused great damage to an unsuspecting public.
“Widespread conflict of interest results in over-prescribing many medicines of dubious benefit, and that conflict of interest leads us to neglect health in favour of pharmaceuticals.”
Professor Jelinek also recommends new guidelines for academic centres and opinion leaders, with bans on gifts, food, and travel, and with an independent office of medical education to oversee funding.
“Doctors should consider whether to accept anything from drug companies, including gifts, research money, or honoraria,” he said.