Following The Money In Science—Does It Matter?


Yesterday, the Washington Post ran an interesting op/ed that questioned the recent spate of stories claiming that drug company and other industry money is corrupting scientists. Written by Harvard Med School professor Thomas Stossel and Mass General endocrinologist David Shaywitz, the op/ed argues:

There is little hard evidence showing that financial ties between university or government researchers and drug companies create health hazards for consumers. Nevertheless, these links are now widely portrayed as dangerous, corrupting the pursuit of scientific truth and threatening the public…This issue surfaced recently, and ominously, when the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen investigated the biases and financial conflicts among experts serving on the FDA's drug advisory committees. The FDA uses these committees—staffed by university researchers and other top experts in a field—to evaluate new drugs and make recommendations about their approval. More often than not, the FDA follows those recommendations.

Public Citizen reviewed 221 committee meetings from 2001 to 2004. The study found that although about a third of advisory committee members had ties to drug companies (FDA requires disclosure of such connections), those links had no significant impact on whether particular drugs received approval. In other words, there was no smoking gun.

Stossel and Shaywitz contentiously conclude:

Medical care available to Americans is immensely better today than when we began our careers in medicine, in large measure because physicians have far superior technology at their disposal. And while much of the knowledge underlying these developments originated in universities, it was biotechnology firms and other companies that transformed this knowledge into the new drugs and devices that have proved so useful to the public. Little of this technology—be it vaccines for hepatitis, heart valves, or new anti-inflammatory drugs for rheumatoid arthritis—was developed by scholars and researchers without supposed conflicts of interest. And none of it came from advocacy organizations such as Public Citizen or their boosters at JAMA.

Whole thing here.

Some of my views on the demonization on the pharmaceutical industry here.

And some of my views on shortsighted pharmaceutical industry shenanigans here.

Disclosure: Yes, yes, as you all know, I own small amounts of stock in various biomedical companies. If you think that affects the accuracy and fairness of my analysis of these issues you're entitled to your opinion, erroneous though it is.