Conflicts of Interest: Research Ethics in the News

According to the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) PharmFree Scorecard, twenty seven medical schools are currently working to revise their conflict of interest policies. With all this work going on (medical schools are just one sample, and when you add the usual slip-ups and surprises) conflict of interest issues at universities promise to be a regular feature in the news. The last couple of months were no exception.

The University of Minnesota posted a draft of its revised policy in November and promptly elicited negative reviews from ethicists, faculty, staff and industry. At the beginning of December, Steve Miles and Carl Elliott, ethicists from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics, voiced their critiques on Gary Schwitzer’s health news blog (December 4, 2009; archived here under the tag “conflict of interest policy”). The comments were, in turn, picked up by the Star Tribune and others. While Miles and Elliott do not think the policy will prevent embarrassing conflicts of interest at the University, others, according to the university’s general counsel, Mark Rotenberg, find the revision confusing and too restrictive.

Earlier this month The New York Times reported that two of Harvard’s teaching hospitals, Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals in Boston, will implement new conflict-of-interest rules to restrict payments to doctors and administrators from outside sources to $5000 a day. (Some had received $200,000 annually for their roles on company boards). Company stock and speaker’s fees from pharmaceutical companies are also prohibited in the new rules. (See the Partners HealthCare press release, April 10, 2009.)

More recently, in The New York Times, Stanford University (whose medical school holds a grade of “A”, up from “B” on December 15, 2009, on the AMSA Scorecard) announced a new CME program to help doctors recognize and combat improper drug industry influence. Perhaps to be thought of in the spirit of smoking-cessation programs funded by big tobacco, the $3 million supporting grant is bankrolled by Pfizer.

Related News:

BMJ Group. Can we trust industry-funded drug research? Guardian.co.uk. January 4, 2009.

Chris Silva. Grassley queries health groups on industry ties. American Medical News. December 21, 2009.

Useful Links:

Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Financial Conflicts of Interest in Academic Medicine.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Final Guidance Document. Financial Relationships and Interests in Research Involving Human Subjects: Guidance for Human Subject Protection. 2004. [PDF – 35 KB]

Josephine Johnston. Conflict of interest in biomedical research. In The Hastings Center Bioethics Briefing Book. 2008.

Lo, Bernard, and Marilyn J. Field; Institute of Medicine (U.S.). Committee on Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice. Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2009.

Other Research Ethics News

Lancet urges China to show ‘integrity’. Yahoo! News. January 7, 2010.

F. Daniel Davis. Looking Ahead to Obama’s Bioethics Commission. Bioethics Forum. January 5, 2010.

Ann Hammock. The future of brain-controlled devices. CNN. January 4, 2010.

Alicia Mundy and Jared A. Favoled. Doctors’ Spat Exposes FDA Loophole. The Wall Street Journal. December 29, 2009.

Jef Akst. Consent issues nix blood samples. The Scientist. December 23, 2009.

Dan Vergano. NIH to propose new research ethics rules. USA Today. December 22, 2009.

Michael Rugnetta. More Stem Cells Lines Approved, Process Proves Smart. Science Progress. December 17, 2009.

Brendan Howard. OSU president cancels anthrax study proposal requiring primate euthanasia. DVM NewsMagazine. December 1, 2009.

— J.O.

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