Harvard tightens rules on industry payments to top professorsBMJ 2010; 340 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c172 (Published 12 January 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c172
All rapid responses
The 12 January issue of the BMJ brings us two more
examples of pharmaceutical industry penetration into what,
in a better world, would be protected places: Harvard
Medical School(1) and the World Health Organization.(2)
In this atmosphere of hidden payments and conflict of
interest, medical professionals still go with some
confidence to journals like the BMJ, and the general
public to trusted media like the New York Times.
It is distressing therefore to come across an article in the
New York Times titled “Not all drugs are the same after all”.(3) This
article calls into question the safety and effectiveness of
generic medicines. It has already met with warm approval on
the internet, especially on pharmaceutical industry-
But before suspicion of generic drugs becomes received
wisdom under the imprimatur of the New York Times, the
subject deserves a closer look.
The easy part: by introducing the subject as a problem of generics vs. brand products, the author plays into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry, which for decades has attempted to plant suspicion in the public’s mind about generic medicines. The problem is, of course, one of bioavailablity, not generics per se. This is made clear in the body of the article.
However, that is not the big problem with the New York Times article.
The intelligent reader will be impressed with the statements
of Dr. James A. Reiffel in favor of brand name products.
After all, we are told that he is a “cardiologist and
professor of clinical medicine at Columbia”. But don’t we
also deserve to know that Dr. Reiffel is also a paid
consultant for GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of two
drugs (bupropion/Wellbutrin and lamotrigine/Lamictal)
discussed favorably in the article? Or that Dr. Kimford
Meador of Emory University, another expert cited, has received financial support from
GlaxoSmithKline and also from UCB Pharmaceuticals, the
manufacturer of levetiracetam/Keppra, another product
The comments of Reiffel and Meador are balanced and reasonable. They do not directly promote any brand product by name. So, no problem? Perhaps the fact that these two experts have also received
payments for various services from many other pharmaceutical
companies means that there is no particular conflict of
interest. Does conflict of interest get diluted out
somehow? A five minute internet search of disclosed competing interests reveals that between them, Reiffel and Meador have additional financial ties with Pfizer Inc, Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck, Bristol Myers-Squibb, Ciba-Geigy, Johnson and Johnson, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Abbott Laboratories, Pfizer, Procter and Gamble, Searle, Park-Davis, Solvay, Astellas Pharma, Cardiome, Pharmacia, Sanofi-Aventis US, CV Therapeutics Inc., Reliant Pharmaceuticals, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical, Shire US, AstraZeneca, Xention Discovery Ltd, and Elan Corporation.
William L. Aldis
(1) Tanne JT. Harvard tightens rules on industry payments
to top professors. BMJ 2010;340:c172.
(2) Carloe J. WHO vaccine expert had conflict of interest,
Danish newspaper claims. BMJ 2010;340:c201.
(3) Alderman L. Not all drugs are the same after all. New York Times
Competing interests: No competing interests