- Professor Martin Tattersall has a big job -- the committee he heads decides which medical drugs are allowed into Australia. For that, he needs experts to help him evaluate the dozens of medications submitted each year.
Professor Tattersall, a cancer specialist, also has a big problem. He says that finding experts to sit on the committee is now all but impossible because so many doctors have "huge conflicts of interest" with drug companies.
- One of Australia's most senior cancer specialists has accused pharmaceutical companies of manipulating some clinical trials of medicines for commercial reasons, including deliberately delaying the release of negative findings and being reluctant to fund research into the toxicity of their drugs.
- Fifteen per cent of 823 specialists surveyed by the University of NSW in a recent study published online in the Internal Medicine Journal admitted they asked drug companies for gifts, money and travel, while 52 per cent were offered travel to conferences (two-thirds accepted). The study's lead author, associate professor of ethics and law in medicine, Paul McNeill, has recommended the end of direct payments from drug companies for travel and says industry funds for travel should be distributed through an independent group. The suggestion is in line with overseas practice: in the US direct payments for travel are discouraged, while the British have ruled out business class travel for doctors.
- The so-called "Pharma Collaboration", unreported in the Australian media, linked the Mental Health Council of Australia directly to global pharmaceutical giants Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Glaxo SmithKline, Bristol Myers Squibb, Lundbeck, Wyeth and Astra Zeneca.
It has been a good deal for the non-profit council, which promotes itself as Australia's peak mental health group, providing 8 per cent of its total income. It also seems to have benefited the drug companies, which have a strong financial interest in selling medication to treat mental illness, especially the "new epidemic" of depression.
Thanks to Deb for today's issues-down-under report!