Letters Guidance on collaboration with drug industry

Guidance offers little in the way of ethics or transparency

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e2910 (Published 24 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2910
  1. Wendy Rogers, professor of clinical ethics1,
  2. Tamara Zutlevics, visiting scholar 2,
  3. Melissa Raven, adjunct lecturer2,
  4. Jon Jureidini, head3
  1. 1Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
  2. 2Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, Australia
  3. 3Department of Psychological Medicine, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Adelaide, SA, Australia
  1. wendy.rogers{at}mq.edu.au

While noting the alleged benefits of this new guidance, the article fails to mention its weaknesses.1 The guidance uncritically endorses relationships between the drug industry and healthcare professionals, a view endorsed by 18 august bodies including various royal colleges.

Despite claims of “ethics, transparency, partnership,” it takes some sleuthing to discover that the guideline is written by a multi-stakeholder group, seemingly coordinated and supported by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). Neither the group’s membership nor its funding is declared in the guidance or the ABPI website. So much for transparency.

The guidance purports to be based on three “core principles,” which turn out to be unsubstantiated claims about benefits of collaboration and the ability of healthcare professionals to manage industry relationships without compromising clinical decision making. The second claim runs counter to a large body of evidence.2 3 The third principle is merely a statement of faith that a supposedly robust set of currently existing regulations, including UK law and various codes, “ensure professional and ethical standards are upheld.” With the exception of a few glib injunctions, the guidance is silent on ethical principles underpinning collaboration between industry and healthcare professionals. There is no indication that the authors understand the complexity and seriousness of conflicts of interest.4

The guidance refers to “great collaborations” between healthcare professionals and the drug industry, with no mention of collaborations that have led to serious harm to patients.

Many other elements of the guidance warrant critical examination and refutation, such as the claim—worryingly endorsed by the Medical Schools Council—that industry plays a valid and important role in providing medical education. This endorsement condemns future generations of UK doctors to industry sponsored “education” and runs counter to the professional zeitgeist.5

This guidance refuses to take the problem of conflicts of interest seriously and does nothing to improve ethics or transparency. It is deeply disappointing.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2910


  • Competing interests: None declared.