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Biotech Authors: Greg Wind

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Report Calls for Stricter Regulation of Medical Conflicts of Interest [The Scientific Activist]

Yesterday, the Institute of Medicine released a report entitled "Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice". As far as I can tell, the full report is only available for a fairly substantial charge, but these are some of the main recommendations summed up in the report's press release:

All academic medical centers, journals, professional societies, and other entities engaged in health research, education, clinical care, and development of practice guidelines should establish or strengthen conflict-of-interest policies, the report says. Disclosure by physicians and researchers not only to their employers but also to other medical organizations of their financial links to pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device firms is an essential first step in identifying and managing conflicts of interest and needs to be improved. The committee noted substantial variations in institutions' conflict-of-interest policies and shortcomings in physicians' and researchers' adherence to policy requirements. The format for disclosure and categories of relationships should be standardized to help institutions judge the risk that a relationship poses and to ease the burden for individuals who must report information to multiple organizations with different policies.

In addition, Congress should require pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and device firms to report through a public Web site the payments they make to doctors, researchers, academic health centers, professional societies, patient advocacy groups, and others involved in medicine. A public record like this could serve as a deterrent to inappropriate relationships and undue industry influence. It also would provide medical institutions with a way to verify the accuracy of information that physicians, researchers, and senior officials have disclosed to them.

The report calls on researchers, medical school faculty, and private-practice doctors to forgo gifts of any amount from medical companies and to decline to publish or present material ghostwritten or otherwise controlled by industry. Consulting arrangements should be limited to legitimate expert services spelled out in formal contracts and paid for at a fair market rate. Physicians should limit their interactions with company sales representatives and use free drug samples only for patients who cannot afford medications. Several professional organizations and industry groups have set new limits on gift giving and other relationships between industry and the medical community, but it is too soon to gauge the effects these changes, the committee noted.

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