Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Osteoporosis Training -- Sign up Now!

From the Department of Irony?

I saw that Dr. Richard Eastell, from the bone metabolism unit at Sheffield University, would be chairing a session on osteoporosis. Another chapter in the Procter & Gamble saga, I wonder? Eastell was taped saying that he was concerned that putting pressure on P & G to show its trial data to researchers who were ostensibly running the trial (including Eastell and Aubrey Blumsohn) would result in the university losing a valuable financial partnership. Others have made more of these comments than have I – the comments don’t sound good, but in themselves, they are far short of incriminating. Basically, they just made him sound like a research dean who cared more about money than science – which I suspect is likely true of many deans. In these days of cutting state support for education, deans who bring in more $$$ from the drug industry at the expense of integrity are probably the norm rather than the exception at many research universities.

There were some other revelations that disturbed me more about Eastell's conduct, such as the following excerpt from a British paper. The context, as mentioned previously, was regarding P & G expecting Blumsohn and Eastell to affix their names to a paper, though they had not seen the raw data on which it was based...

"No self-respecting scientist could ever be expected to publish findings based on data to which they do not have free and full access," Dr Blumsohn wrote.

But in December 2004, in a letter to Dr Blumsohn, Professor Eastell said that, under guidelines from the US Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), "there is not access to the data...".

He added: "The approach we have taken for this manuscript of working closely with the statisticians to identify the best approach to analyse the data is an example of best practice." He said that if Dr Blumsohn wanted to be a co-author of the paper he would have to sign an author's agreement stating he was in "full agreement" with the work." Full text of that article is here.

An example of best practice? Where would it be considered best practice for researchers to write manuscripts based on data they have not seen? Planet PhRMA?? Give me a break! Granted, it happens all the time in psychiatry and all over medicine, but it sure as hell does not match any reasonable scientist's definition of "best practice."

Eastell was later investigated (with no charges sticking) for some irregularities (financial in nature) that can be read about here.

In the end, Eastell is now running a rather expensive event in the name of osteoporosis training. If you’d like to register, just follow the link here. I think I'd rather attend an Eastell seminar titled something like: "Ghostwriting for the 21st Century" -- that would be worth a steep registration fee. How much the seminar will overlap with P & G talking points has yet to be determined but a high degree of overlap is expected. Should any of you attend the seminar, let me know...

For much, much more background on this saga, you really need to go to Aubrey Blumsohn’s blog. Or check out the Slate article for a good start. You could also read this if you'd like.

I noticed the following quote on the website which advertises this event:
"This course is suitable for pharmaceutical industry personnel from clinical through to marketing disciplines."

You are encouraged to insert your own punchlines here (or in the comments page). I assume that this meets or exceeds PhRMA guidelines.

Eastell may be the nicest man on the planet. He may even be the most ethical gentleman in all of the UK. I'm just pointing out that this chain of events could be construed as strange and reflective of the quite powerful influence of industry in science.


Anonymous said...

Holy PhRMA! $4000!
I too would go the Eastell route if they offered me that amount of cash. Assuming a 50% cut and 20 or 30 participants thats some dough Eastell man.

Small Voice said...

Presumably the one thing that is NOT being paid for is a discussion on academic freedom.

Pity about the ghostwriting but didn't it pay off well.

Small Voice said...

Apologies, TWO things. The other being the scientific validity of data and the possible results of its eventual widespread application to people with osteoporosis. But thats a minor point.

CL Psych said...

Thanks for the comments. Eastell's gig did indeed seem to pay well. Too bad I'm not likely to land one of those speaking engagements anytime soon! I can't help but think of how much easier my life would be if I had ghostwriters on tap -- I'd certainly publish a lot more. As for people with osteoporosis and their outcomes, I'll leave the commentary on that to Aubrey Blumsohn -- he's much more in tune with both the published literature and the unseemly underbelly of industry influence on said research.