Loose lips sink ships?and maybe reputations?

March 15, 2006

It's getting harder and harder to disentangle the medical profession from financial conflicts of interest . . . . It is never wholly clear whether the doctor is focused on the medical needs of patients or has one eye on the prospects of a financial patron." So begins a recent editorial in The New York Times

This general theme has been bubbling along for quite a while. A short while ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) banned its employees from serving as industry consultants. But what has raised the issue most recently is the allegation, reported in the lay press and causing a U.S. senator to call for federal investigations, that physicians involved in clinical trials have been leaking results to people who are trading on that information.2

According to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA),2 a doctor performing clinical trials while advising investors is a prescription for trouble, and the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission have been asked to look into the matter. According to the editorial in The New York Times,1 the antidote is for doctors to limit themselves to one or the other activity.

Our profession needs to do whatever is necessary to reassure the public (our patients) that we put their welfare above all other considerations. If we don't, we'll be sorry.

Peter J. McDonnell, MD is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times. He can be reached at 727 Maumenee Building, 600 North Wolfe St., Baltimore, MD 21287-9278 Phone: 443/287-1511 Fax: 443/287-1514 E-mail: pmcdonn1@jhmi.edu

References

1. When doctors advise investors. The New York Times, Aug 17, 2005, p. 18.

2. Mundy A. Senator wants SEC to probe leaks of drug-research secrets. Seattle Times, Aug 9, 2005.

3. Topol EJ, Blumenthal D. Physicians and the investment industry. JAMA 2005; 293:2654-2657.