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Top Medical Journal Slams BigPharma

A top medical journal is driving a global campaign to separate medicine from big pharma, connecting industry influence to the pelvic mesh scandal that injured hundreds of women.

The BMJ says doctors are excessively influenced by industry-funded trials for major drugs and industry-sponsored education events.

The journal’s editor and a team of global healthcare leaders write in a scathing editorial published on Wednesday that those trials cannot be trusted. They write: 

“(the) endemic financial entanglement with industry is distorting the production and use of healthcare evidence, causing harm to individuals and waste for health systems.”

They are asking governments to start funding independent trials of new drugs and medical devices, instead of relying on industry-funded studies. Studies show that sponsored research is more likely to find a favourable result compared to independent research. And they also want medical associations to dissuade doctors from going to industry-funded education events.

Assistant Professor Ray Moynihan is one of the leaders of The BMJ’s campaign. Moynihan is a Bond University researcher studying the link between money and medicine. He says:

“When we want to decide on a medicine or a surgery, a lot of the evidence we used to inform that decision is biased. It cannot be trusted. Because so much of that has been produced and funded by the manufacturers of those healthcare products.“

Dr. Moynihan points to the example of medical giant Johnson & Johnson, which sold their pelvic mesh to thousands of Australian women. The company knew the mesh could cause serious harm, but never adequately warned women of the risks.

A US court found that the same company, Johnson & Johnson, intentionally played down the dangers and oversold the benefits of opioids, stoking the addiction crisis that claims the lives of 130 Americans a day. The company plans to appeal in both cases.

The BMJ  also wants policies in place to stop doctors from receiving professional development points for attending industry-sponsored education events. Critics claim that these educational events are thinly disguised sales seminars.

According to University of Sydney research, pharma companies spent more than $286 million between 2011 and 2015 on events for Australian doctors, nurses, pharmacists. Most received free food and beverages, and some got complimentary flights and accommodation for an overseas conference.

Studies prove that doctors who attend industry-sponsored events are more likely to prescribe the company’s drugs.

But the Australian Medical Association questions how medical education and research would be funded if the pharmaceutical industry was not involved. Dr. Chris Moy, chair of the association’s ethics and medico-legal committee says:

“Who is going to fund all this? Is the government going to fund it? Money makes the world go round, in simple terms. Research will not happen unl there is funding. Medicine is always going to need pharma companies. We cannot be too brutal on them.”

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons says it requires its members not to accept money or gifts in exchange for using certain devices or surgeries. They also must declare any conflicts of interest – for example, if they are on a company’s payroll – to their patients.

The Medical Technology Association of Australia says its members are bound by a “code of practice which aims to ensure that healthcare providers are not influenced in their decision-making through financial or other inducements to choose one device over another”.

Medicines Australia, which represents major pharmaceutical companies, did not return a request for comment.

Article originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald


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