“The Physician Payments Sunshine Act” (see my previous post), introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI), would require drug companies to disclose their payments to physicians. Besides showing how the pharmaceutical industry can influence the way doctors practice medicine, the act would also illustrate how industry payments might influence university research about drugs.
Many university research teams include physicians who conduct or lead studies. The research is sometimes funded by public sources such as grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Private sources such as pharmaceutical companies often fund university research, too.
Sen. Grassley has sent letters to research universities, including one to the University of Texas System, inquiring about potential conflicts of interest. Grassley is concerned that university recipients of NIH grants are not fully disclosing the payments their physician researchers receive from the drug industry.
After requesting information from the University of Texas, Eli Lilly (Indianapolis, IN), and GlaxoSmithKline (London), Grassley discovered that two particular physicians had failed to disclose the total amount of payments they received from these drug companies. Grassley wants to ensure objectivity in publicly funded research and worries that funding from pharmaceutical companies could compromise this objectivity.
I’m glad that Grassley has taken steps to shed light on the sources of research funding. He’s right to insist on standards for publicly funded research. Drug companies do us a service by providing money for research, but healthy skepticism about the conclusions of that research is warranted. We should insist that our money pays for research based on scientific standards. The public weal deserves no less.