With Influence Like This, You’d Expect Pharma Stocks to Do Better
In the latest in a growing list of probes into conflicts of interest among physicians and the pharmaceutical industry, a new report examines the ties between members of all-important treatment guidelines and drugmakers whose medicines can benefit from decisions and dictums. The upshot? The pharmaceutical industry heavily influences guidelines for a wide range of medicines.
How so? The committees chartered with composing guidelines are often dominated by doctors who worked as paid speakers, consultants or advisers to drugmakers, according to an analysis by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today. Such ties corrupt medicine and pervert guidelines, critics say. Drugmakers and doctors argue that those with conflicts are needed experts.
In reaching its conclusion, the publications examined 20 clinical practice guidelines for conditions treated by the 25 top-selling drugs in the US. An analysis of the guideline panels, which involved 293 doctors, found that nine guidelines were written by panels where more than 80 percent of doctors had financial ties to drugmakers.
“Four panels did not require members to disclose any conflicts of interest. Of 16 that did, 66 percent of doctors on the panels had ties to drugmakers. Some guidelines written by conflicted panels recommend drugs that have not been scientifically proven to safely treat conditions, leading to inappropriate or over prescribing,” the publications wrote.
Pharma companies -- the likes of Pfizer (PFE), Novartis (NVS) and Merck (MRK) -- have had a hard time generating revenue growth of late, as former blockbuster drugs lose patent protection and company labs produce too few new drugs.
There is more to the story, but here is one example offered: The Advair asthma drug was the nation’s fifth best-selling med in 2011, with $4.6 billion in sales, and is part of a class of drugs recommended in a 2007 guideline from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. But 12 of 18 members of the guideline panel had financial ties to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which makes Advair. Three other panel members had ties to other companies that market that same of class of drugs, known as beta-agonists. In all, 83 percent of panel members had conflicts. Meanwhile, beta-agonists have been linked to higher rates of death and severe asthma attacks.
And one more example. The Epogen anemia med sold by Amgen (AMGN), which was once Medicare’s most expensive treatment, was recommended in guidelines issued in 2006 by the National Kidney Foundation. These recommended treating anemia in chronic kidney disease patients and endorsed a class of drugs including Epogen. But the papers write that, on almost every level, the drugmaker had financial ties to the guideline process.
Fifteen of 18 panel members who wrote the guideline for the Kidney Foundation had financial ties to drugmakers, and 10 of those members, including both co-chairs, had financial relationships directly with Amgen. The biotech paid $1.7 million in 2004 and 2005 to fund the guidelines for the Kidney Foundation. All told, foundation records show the group received $8.7 million from Amgen in those years, the paper writes.
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Ed Silverman, a contributing editor of YCharts, is the founder and editor of Pharmalot. He previously reported on the pharmaceutical industry and other business topics for the Star-Ledger of New Jersey, New York Newsday and Investor’s Business Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.