Follow the money?
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Corruption and conflict of interest has long been rife through Australian society.
We understand the documented spider web of pharma-doctor conflicted collaborations that influence the field.
But what about those that aren’t documented?
Those that don’t see the light of day?
A new study has found that one in four Australian medical researchers fail to declare important conflicts of interest in medical trials, such as payments from big pharma companies.
Australian medicos collected over $11 million in payments from drug companies in the past year.
And, in many cases, these payments are not declared when they should be.
The research, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, examined 120 clinical trials of new drugs, comparing the declared conflicts of interest in studies published in medical journals with a database of money they actually received.
“One quarter of all Australian authors in these 120 trials had at least one undeclared conflict.”
It found that of 323 Australian authors listed in the trials, one quarter had at least one “missing or incomplete conflict of interest declaration”.
The average undeclared payment of was around $9000 – with some ranging up to $97,600.
“This is not an issue of weeding out a few bad apples,” co-lead author Associate Professor Barbara Mintzes from the University of Sydney’s School of Pharmacy said.
“Based on our findings, the issue of incomplete and inaccurate disclosure is widespread”.
In 2016, Medicines Australia started publishing pharma company payments to medical practitioners for consultancy, advisory meetings and educational events.
The researchers cross-checked drug company payments made to researchers, available on the Medicines Australia database, with the authors’ self-reported conflicts.
Medicines Australia CEO, Elizabeth de Somer said the group is a “strong advocate for transparency”.
Guidelines from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors asks authors to declare if they have any conflicts of interest when submitting manuscripts.
The declarations are meant to be broad: for example, a scientist studying a blood-pressure medicine should declare if they have received money from any other companies that make blood-pressure drugs.
Yet, researchers are not even making this information pubic for scrutiny.
For those that do disclose their conflict of interests, the ratio in proportion to the total field of medical research is becoming significantly higher with each year.
Let’s not forget the documented influence that has swept us for years as well.
BIG PHARMA INFLUENCE
Bond University researcher Dr Ray Moynihan, who studies the link between money and medicine, said the research showed a “lack of rigour from the journals and authors that these things aren’t being declared”.
“Disclosures are crucial to keeping research transparent. It is vital because pharma industry funding is associated with a bias towards study results that are more favourable towards the tested drug.”
“One of the fundamental problems for medicine and healthcare is that so much of science is funded by companies who have a vested interest in the outcome of the studies,” he continued.
He is correct, it is important.
But does anything actually happen when medical researchers do report their links?
The products are still shipped to the shelves despite the conflict of interests.
Big pharma money has frequently been shown to influence trials, which makes them more likely to ‘find what the companies want’ – instead of genuine results.
The regulators themselves are also involved in this process, particularly in America.
These systems need to be regulated, with penalties, to enhance transparency and guarantee payments are disclosed. Not just an in-house buddy check between the developers and the sellers.
In the United States, disclosure is mandated by law with fines. The onus is on the company to disclose payments over $10 to doctors and medical researchers. In Australia, it’s self-regulatory.
Everything is out in the open and welcome for scutiny.
Not that is works, but it is still available for all to see.
In many Australian cases, as this new study has found, we don’t even get that opportunity.
Hidden behind a curtain of darkness.
Yet, Australians will continue to trust those who have been found to continuously deceive the public.
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