Pfizer stops funding medical education provided by profit making companies

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 08 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a708
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

    Pfizer, the world’s second largest drug company, said last week that it would no longer pay profit making communication and medical education companies to provide continuing medical education courses. It will continue to pay for education prepared by non-profit organisations, academic institutions, teaching hospitals, and medical societies.

    Pfizer said it was making the change to avoid the appearance of having conflicts of interest, because critics had said that courses supported by the industry were not purely educational but promoted the use of specific drugs.

    US doctors are required to complete a certain number of hours of continuing medical education courses to keep their medical licences current.

    Pfizer’s press release quoted Dave Davis, vice president for continuing education and improvement at the Association of American Medical Colleges, who said, “This move by Pfizer, to my knowledge the first among commercial supporters of CME [continuing medical education], represents a significant advance in the profession’s ability to address the complex issue of conflict of interest.”

    However, an article in the Wall Street Journal says that institutions used by drug companies to develop continuing medical education may continue to hire profit making companies (, 3 Jul, “Pfizer ends direct funding of courses”).

    The drug industry contributed about $1.1bn (£0.6bn; €0.7bn) in 2006 to medical education. Pfizer spent $80m last year on continuing education courses prepared by for-profit and non-profit organisations. A spokesman for Pfizer was unable to say exactly what proportion went to for-profit companies last year but did say that it was less than half.

    Michael Saxton, a leader of Pfizer’s medical education group, said that Pfizer had awarded 17% of its continuing medical education funding to medical education and communications companies but that this figure would now drop to zero. He praised the skills of such companies but said that Pfizer was making the change because of the perception that these companies blur the line between education and promotion.

    Drug companies’ support of continuing medical education courses has been criticised by Congress and professional organisations. The Senate Finance Committee last year said that the industry used educational grants totalling $1bn a year to increase the market for their drugs.

    Earlier this year the Association of American Medical Colleges, after a 14 month inquiry, urged all 129 US medical schools and teaching hospitals to prohibit gifts and services from the industry to physicians, residents, academic staff, and students. It concluded that medical schools and teaching hospitals had become increasingly dependent on industry support for their educational missions (BMJ 2008;336:1035, 10 May doi: 10.1136/bmj.39569.475428.DB).

    Although partnerships between industry and academic medicine were “vital to public health,” the association said, “they must be principled partnerships effectively managed to sustain public trust in both partners’ commitment to patient welfare and the improvement of health care.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a708

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