Fierce Pharma
By tracy
Created Jul 30 2009 – 10:37am

Continuing medical education (CME [1]) has been bastardized by pharma funding, an HHS inspector general told Congress, and needs a complete overhaul. Lewis Morris, chief counsel for the HHS office of inspector general, said that industry doesn’t just shape the courses, it has also used CME to promote off-label uses. And Morris was just the first of several witnesses expected to criticize industry-funded CME during a Senate Committee on Aging hearing.

Pharma-backed CME has grown by leaps and bounds. Dow Jones reports that industry funding for medical education has more than tripled over the past 10 years to $1.2 billion. That’s more than half the courses many doctors are required to take to stay current. “CME has become an insidious vehicle for the aggressive promotion of drugs and medical devices,” said Dr. Steve Nissen (photo [2]), the Cleveland Clinic cardiologist who rarely minces his words.

But others–including PhRMA–protest that the industry can offer the best, most up-to-date info on new treatments, and that drugmakers are an important part of medical education. Dr. Thomas Stossel of Harvard Medical School–who has started an organization balking at the current backlash against pharma funding and doc payments–told the committee that companies make an important contribution to scientific understanding of disease. “I want the best information. I don’t care who pays for it,” Stossel said (as quoted by Dow Jones). “The nonprofit societies just can’t get up to speed fast enough.”

The hearing is just the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over how much pharma funding is too much, and whether all financial ties between industry and doctors, academia, and CME should be disclosed. Medical schools and hospitals have established conflicts-of-interest policies, some of which are so strict they don’t even allow reps to hand out logo notepads. Drugmakers have promised to disclose payments to doctors [3], and some have bowed out of CME funding. This particular Senate committee is considering legislation that would require companies to disclose doc payments. The debate is far from over.