FDAnews Drug Daily Bulletin

Medical Schools Flunk Conflict-of-Interest-With-Pharma Test

June 5, 2008

One in 10 U.S. medical schools surveyed by the American Medical Students Association (AMSA) have no policies on financial conflicts of interest with drug companies or policies the group deemed unacceptable, earning them a grade of F.

The survey, completed May 30, is the latest addition to growing concern by legislators, advocacy groups and academia over conflicts of interest with pharmaceutical companies. In April, an Association of American Medical Colleges task force recommended that academic medical centers “strongly discourage” their faculty from speaking at industry-sponsored conferences.

That same month saw the Massachusetts Senate vote to ban gifts of any value from pharmaceutical and device companies to physicians or healthcare facilities.

It also saw charges in the Journal of the American Medical Association that Merck employees guest-authored and ghostwrote medical literature attributed to external, academically associated authors for its painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib). Earlier, an FDA proposal to relax guidelines for journal articles on off-label use of drugs drew congressional oversight.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach a letter April 21 regarding the agency’s draft guidance for journal articles, saying he had “serious concerns about FDA’s current proposal to expand direct distribution of scientific articles to physicians by pharmaceutical and device sales representatives in light of recent studies and editorials regarding ghostwriting and manipulation of scientific data by the drug industry, as well as my own findings about the integrity of the peer review process.”

Only seven medical schools (5 percent) received A’s, 14 (9 percent) got B’s, four (3 percent) got C’s and 19 (13 percent) got D’s. In addition, 28 survey participants (19 percent) were revising or creating new policies when the survey was conducted. “This is an important finding: Roughly one in five U.S. medical schools is in the process of developing new and presumably more stringent policies,” AMSA said.

The AMSA survey results, including scores for each area for all responding schools, can be accessed at www.amsascorecard.org.