Saturday, January 20, 2007

Greed and Cancer Docs

This is rich, bloody rich. I'll just let Bloomberg do the talking:
Cancer doctors must disclose all financial ties to investment firms, said a leading U.S. physician group seeking to stop the leak of insider information on clinical drug trials.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology described the new policy, the most strict of any medical group, in a Jan. 20 article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The Alexandria, Virginia-based professional organization has more than 23,000 members worldwide.

Cancer physicians must disclose all consulting or advisory arrangements they have with either investment or commercial interests, the policy says. Investment firms cultivate doctors with lucrative consulting arrangements, and traders can use their inside knowledge to buy and sell stocks of companies developing new therapies before the information becomes public.


The policy was crafted in response to reports about the growing practice of physicians consulting for Wall Street firms about confidential drug research, typically for $300 to $500 an hour, the authors wrote. The practice was described in an August 2005 investigative report by The Seattle Times, and it later attracted scrutiny from Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Times found 26 cases in which doctors leaked critical information about ongoing drug research to investment firms, despite signing confidentiality contracts with sponsors of drug trials.


Peter Eisenberg, a prominent cancer physician in Marin County, California, said the newly strengthened ethics policy for cancer doctors was a ``necessary step.'' He said the advice will help physicians who want to do the right thing, yet, ``for those who aren't scrupulous, no policy will suffice.''

Eisenberg said he stopped his $600 an hour consulting with Wall Street firms after reading the Seattle Times report about how investors elicit inside information from doctors. The Jan. 20 journal article cited instances where analysts have posed as fellow doctors or patients in order to elicit information from doctors.

``They know how to get the information, and basically, I don't know how to keep it to myself, so I decided to stop,'' Eisenberg said of working with investment firms.

So, basically, many oncologists involved with research trials are sneakily disclosing research findings so that investment firms can either buy or sell shares of drug developing firms. Pretty sleazy, eh?

Why this is even worse than it looks: Many physicians are breaking confidentiality agreements because they are getting paid quite a handsome sum. But when research results show that a drug is ineffective and/or dangerous (think SSRIs for child/adolescent depression, for example), research docs do not disclose the negative information to the people who actually need to know these results -- patients. This leaves tens of thousands of people taking medication that is dangerous and/or ineffective. So, to summarize, if they get paid off, many docs will break their confidentiality agreements with drug companies, yet when trial results show that a drug is not a good treatment option, nearly all research doctors will hide behind their confidentiality agreements and let people suffer. This does not exactly engender faith in the academic-pharmaceutical complex, does it?

Many thanks to an anonymous reader for the link.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We're even luckier than you may imagine:

The high-profit margin of chemotherapy drugs is one factor crucial to the success of these new physician practice management companies. Just how high is entirely up to doctors. Mark-ups as high as 600% have been reported. Oncologists are unique among physicians in that they can profit directly from the drugs they prescribe. This is due to the fact that most chemotherapy must be administered intravenously under doctor supervision.

We are immensely fortunate that every last one of our oncologists has such a sterling character that it is utterly inconceivable that greenbacks would, in any way, color their prescribing habits.

And even if there were the odd malum malum, (bad apple for the Latin-deprived) our glorious pharmaceutical companies do keep tabs on what our oncologists prescribe.

Officials said the investigation began in May when a sales representative for Eli Lilly, maker of Gemzar, noted the pharmacy had purchased only about one third of the drug it had supposedly provided and billed to patients. A doctor informed by the salesman then decided to send samples he obtained to an independent lab and found the samples highly diluted.

Note that it wasn't the feds but Eli Lilly who caught on to this lowlife. How did the glorious crime-busters at Eli Lilly gain access to data on what the pharmacy was billing its patients? Did Eli Lilly also monitor how many patients were paying for Zyprexa?

A bonus question: did Lilly then refer Zyprexa customers to its humulin marketing division for the same sort of cold call it made to potential Prozac customers:

Florida Probes Lilly's Mailings Of Prozac Samples to Patients
THOMAS M. BURTON / Wall Street Journal 8jul02

The Florida attorney general's office is investigating whether Eli Lilly & Co. violated the state's unfair-trade law when Lilly sales personnel allegedly mailed free samples of the antidepressant Prozac to patients taking other depression medicines.

If the government doesn't do something about this mess, I move that we end elections for Congress, and instead pass laws that enable the American People to elect the executives at America's pharmaceutical companies.