October 23,2009

Grassley works to have drug company payments disclosed

WASHINGTON --- Senator Chuck Grassley is continuing his campaign to establish transparency with the financial relationships between drug companies and medical professionals.

Grassley has conducted oversight and sought disclosure with physicians, especially those involved in influential taxpayer-sponsored medical research; medical journals containing ghostwritten articles; medical colleges; continuing medical education; and the patient advocacy community.

This week, the senator released letters seeking information from state-level chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The inquiry follows one Grassley made earlier this year asking NAMI and other patient advocacy groups and medical professional societies for information about financial relationships with drug companies and medical device manufacturers. The letter is posted with this news release at http://grassley.senate.gov and http://finance.senate.gov.

“Public trust and public dollars are at stake,” Grassley said. “People rely on medical advice and taxpayers spend billions of dollars on prescription drugs and devices through Medicare and Medicaid. Public confidence could be greatly improved if financial relationships were disclosed. My legislative effort is a common-sense reform that would require the pharmaceutical and device industry to report the money it gives to doctors.”
Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Grassley to require drug, device and biologic manufacturers to report quarterly to the Department of Health and Human Services payments to physicians is part of the health care reform bill passed by the Senate Committee on Finance. Grassley has worked for passage of this legislation since 2007. The Physician Payments Sunshine Act, S.301, would establish the first-ever nationwide requirement for this information to be reported and made publicly available.

Since 2007, Grassley has conducted extensive congressional oversight of financial relationships, including among doctors who conduct research with the $24 billion awarded annually in federal grants by the National Institutes of Health. Institutions receiving these federal dollars are required to track the financial relationships of researchers, but Grassley has found enforcement of those requirements often to be either lax or non-existent. “As a steward of these research dollars, the NIH can and should provide leadership in this area by doing what it should be doing to account for financial ties to protect biomedical research. The NIH needs to lose its casual attitude about its responsibilities here and make it clear to grantees that noncompliance won’t be tolerated.”

Examples of what Grassley’s oversight in this area has revealed include the chairman of psychiatry at Emory University failing to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from a pharmaceutical company while researching that same company’s drugs with a federal grant from the NIH. The professor subsequently resigned his chairmanship. At Stanford University, the chairman of psychiatry received an NIH grant to study a drug, while partially owning a company that was seeking FDA approval of that drug. After exposure, the NIH removed the individual from the grant. At Harvard University, three professors failed to report almost a million dollars each in outside income while heading up several NIH grants. Following Grassley’s oversight, Harvard is revising the conflict of interest policies and is conducting an internal investigation of these professors. In another case, Grassley focused attention on the fact that the host of a program broadcast on National Public Radio’s satellite station received over a million dollars from pharmaceutical companies to give promotional talks, while hosting the show.

The program, which has been cancelled, previously received funding from the NIH. In another case, the chairman of orthopedic surgery at the University of Wisconsin reported taking more than $20,000 from a company every year for five years. Grassley’s oversight helped to reveal that the actual amount was closer to $19 million. The University of Wisconsin is revising its rules.

Based on the Grassley’s investigations, over 40 universities nationwide are revising their disclosure policies, and the NIH plans to release news standards for tracking financial ties next year.

“The case has clearly been made for requiring industry to report payments to physicians, especially those conducting highly influential research, often with taxpayer support” Grassley said. “Operating with transparency sends a message that there’s nothing to hide. It’d be good for the entire system if there was transparency with continuing medical education, patient advocacy groups, and medical journals, too.”

In April of this year, the Institute of Medicine issued a report endorsing transparency and stating that protections against conflicts can be established without inhibiting productive relationships between the medicine and industry to improve medical knowledge and care.

Below is a news report about Grassley’s review of industry dollars to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Additional clips regarding Grassley’s oversight work and work for transparency are posted at http://grassley.senate.gov/about/Disclosure-of-Drug-Company- Payments-to-Doctors.cfm.