A group of prominent physicians and researchers have called upon professional medical groups to progressively sever all links with the drug industry.
In a statement Wednesday, they suggested stricter conflict-of-interest guidelines for medical professional associations.
Iin the April 1 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, the group stressed that mere disclosure of financial ties to drug and medical device companies would not do. Members with financial ties should be excluded from leadership positions within the association.
Besides, over a period of time there should be complete ban sponsorships of committees that develop clinically important guidelines and training programs.
And out goes by the window even souvenir pens and tote bags funded by the corporates.
The authors acknowledged that while it would be difficult, even painful, to carry out the reforms, they were essential if physician associations are to maintain their scientific integrity and the trust of their patients.
"When we write a practice guideline, we are telling our colleagues how they should care for their patients," said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, one of the authors of the paper and a past president of the American College of Cardiology, who supports what he calls a "zero dollar" policy, under which medical associations would not take any money from industry. "If you are one of those patients, you are counting on that guideline to be of the highest caliber, free of any influence."
But the recommendations would allow corporate sponsors to buy advertisements in medical journals and booths in halls adjacent to medical conferences.
"The consensus here was quite clear: You do not want the piper calling the tune," said David J. Rothman, a professor of social medicine at Columbia University. "We ask that these groups make every effort to get to zero percent and, knowing that it is very difficult to do that, that they move as rapidly as possible to no more than 25 percent," referring to how much of their support should come from industry.
Drug industry seems rattled even though the recommendations are not binding and would have to be put in place by individual professional associations. They don't know what they are doing, industry representative despaired.
Marjorie Powell, senior assistant general counsel for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a drug industry trade group, said the proposals could deprive the medical community of the expertise of some of its most experienced doctors, who are often deeply involved in industry-financed research, Roni Caryn Rabin reported for New York Times.
"The vast majority of the research is funded by pharmaceutical companies," Ms. Powell said. Important decisions regarding practice guidelines might be made, she said, by "very junior people who have no experience."