Groups lobbying in favour of drug company interests need to open up about receipt of drug company money, say a group of researchers who have documented the scale and lack of clarity in the link between the two.
Despite their huge influence on health policy and the public, health advocacy groups (HAOs) have generally escaped scrutiny of their operations. It is open knowledge that many such groups are funded by the pharmaceutical industry, but much of their funding is opaque.
Now a team led by Sheila Rothman, of Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Society and Medicine in New York, has trawled through the websites of more than 100 groups that received money from pharma company Eli Lilly, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, to see how many are open about this source of revenue. The answer: not many.
Data released by Eli Lilly shows that it gave some US$3 million to 188 groups in the first half of 2007. Of the 161 of these that the researchers could identify, only 29 acknowledged Lilly in their 2007 annual report and only 40 mentioned the company anywhere on their website.
“This lack of transparency is disappointing because, either by design or through a convergence of interests, the HAOs in the current study pursued activities that promoted the sale of Lilly products,” says the team’s new paper in the American Journal of Public Health.
Eli Lilly’s biggest sales are in neuroscience (45% of 2007 net sales), endocrinology (31%) and oncology (11%). The groups it funded were also mainly in neuroscience (70%), endocrinology (11%) and oncology (4%).
“As highly trusted organizations, HAOs should disclose all corporate grants, including the purpose and the amount,” notes the paper. “Absent this disclosure, legislators, regulators and the public cannot evaluate possible conflicts of interest or biases in HAO advocacy.”
The LA Times notes that some groups have changed their practices since companies started following Lilly’s lead and releasing funding details. And Pharmalot notes that the Senate Finance Committee launched a probe into this very issue last year.