Big Pharma, Big Money, and Big Medicine

The pharmaceutical industry’s deep, pervasive links to organized medicine are a big problem.
Here’s a story from the NY Times: Unease on Industry’s Role in Hypertension Debate.

The story is about changes in the definition of “hypertension” (high blood pressure), changes which could affect the number of people diagnosed with that illness, and hence affect the quantity of anti-hypotensive drugs pharmaceutical companies sell. The story tells of how the efforts of the group trying to re-write the definition were funded by 3 drug companies (Merck, Novartis and Sankyo), through “unrestricted” (no-strings-attached) grants.

Of the seven doctors who wrote the proposed new definition, six have said that they served as consultants and speakers for pharmaceutical companies that make blood pressure medications. The seventh is a consultant and stockholder in a company that markets a diagnostic method to measure damage to blood vessels.

Such industry affiliations are not unusual among prominent doctors at academic research centers. And for years, the American Society of Hypertension, known as ASH, has operated with industry support.

But some members of ASH have become vocal critics of the influence wielded by the drug industry…

Of course, many physicians deny that the money lavished on them by the drug companies skews their judgment in any way:

But many members of the society have taken umbrage at suggestions that their work for drug makers affects their scientific independence.
“There are those who accuse us of being nothing more than shills of industry; a lot of us take pretty great offense at that,” said Dr. Joseph L. Izzo, a professor of medicine at the University of Buffalo who was part of the group that developed the new definition. “We’ve basically devoted our careers to researching this disease and how to treat it.”

I have only two quick comments about this defence:
1) No one is saying (or no one needs to be saying) that the docs involved are consciously acting as “shills” for industry, or that they would ever knowingly allow their scientific independence to be compromised.
2) Nonetheless, both evidence & common sense suggest that drug company money does have an effect.
See, for example:

Relevant books:

1 comment so far

  1. […] extent, that’s for good reasons. (I’ve blogged about some of those reasons here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, just to cite a few examples. See also some of the entries […]


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