Date Published: July 21, 2009
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Emma D’Arcy, Ray Moynihan
Abstract: Emma D’Arcy and Ray Moynihan debate whether doctors and drug companies can form healthy alliances or whether these will always be prone to the corrupting influence of drug company money.
Partial Text: The relationship between doctors and drug companies is the subject of intense scrutiny—there is widespread skepticism about the intent of industry and concern for the vulnerability of doctors in the relationship. Unfortunately, the debate on how to move this relationship forward has become polarized: industry argues that collaboration with physicians is essential to scientific advancement, but at the same time many doctors are pledging to cut all their ties to drug companies (see, for example, the No Free Lunch pledge at http://www.nofreelunch.org/pledge.htm).
The idea of establishing and nourishing “authentic alliances” between doctors and drug companies, in order to embrace a “new era of engagement,” sounds extremely enticing. Surely, as Emma D’Arcy eloquently argues, it is time to put behind us all this tiresome talk of physicians being in bed with pharmaceutical companies, and focus instead on the “shared aspirations” to improve human health. Sadly, her Viewpoint is more beguiling than revealing, drawing on the marketing catchphrases of her Web site (http://www.myphid.com/) rather than addressing the crude financial question at the heart of this debate: who pays for the pizza?
While it is a pleasure to be described by Ray Moynihan as eloquent, it is a shame that this debate defaults to cynical sniping. I am not a secret PR strategist for industry. Nor am I enjoying great commercial success in trying to create an environment where unproductive mud-slinging stops and all parties seek appropriate ways to work together.
Anyone genuinely interested in evidence about the dangers of entanglement need go no further than the Web site of the nonprofit group Healthy Skepticism (http://www.healthyskepticism.org/), which boasts a wealth of peer-reviewed data suggesting money does in fact buy influence. For example, one systematic review found that “studies sponsored by pharmaceutical companies were more likely to have outcomes favouring the sponsor than were studies with other sponsors,” pointing to a “systematic bias” in funded research .