You attend your first day of medical school. You anxiously carry your mountain of books, take out your laptop and start vigorously typing notes on every word your professor says.
After sleepless nights and chugging gallons of coffee, the semester comes to an end. You have a whole binder filled with notes about the best medicines, the best pharmaceutical companies and the great strides being made in pharmaceutical research.
How would you feel if everything you learned in medical school was tainted by money from pharmaceutical companies?
Big Pharma Funding Medical Schools
In 2009, Harvard Medical School received an F from the American Medical Student Association (AMSA); a grade that is hardly ever associated with Harvard.
What factors went into the AMSA giving Harvard a grade that would make their faces turn crimson?
Well, the association graded Harvard and 149 other medical schools on their conflict of interest policies. Factors such as how much money and gifts the schools received from drug companies went into determining a school’s grade. The more money the school received, the worse the grade.
By receiving an F, it’s obvious that Harvard had a conflict of interest.
Speaking generally, though, pharmaceutical money goes toward a lot of different areas. Sometimes they’re for legitimate work, like clinical trials, disease treatment and research.
These lead to great advancements in medicine, like research in CT screenings reducing lung cancer death or better arthritis medicines.
Other times the pharmaceutical money is not providing a public service. Money could be handed out to school faculty in the way of paid trips, golf outings, gifts and food.
Out of Harvard’s 8,900 professors and lecturers, 1,600 admit that either they or a family member have had some kind of business link to drug companies that could bias their teaching or research. That’s about 1 in 6 professors.
A thin line between collaboration and manipulation.
The collaboration between industry and academics is needed, but when does legitimate financing cross over into biased teaching, manipulated medical journals and untrustworthy prescriptions?
When the collaboration puts consumers in danger.
In 2006, the New England Journal of Medicine, known as the best medical journal in the world, published a report that compared three diabetes drugs. In the report, a conclusion was made that the drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline’s new prescription, Avandia, was the best.
What was not made clear at the time was that all of the report’s 11 authors received money from the GlaxoSmithKline. Four of the authors even worked for the pharmaceutical company.
[pullquote]Within a few years, the new drug was pulled off the market. 100,000 people had suffered heart attacks.[/pullquote] What made this journal article so scandalous was that the authors omitted vital safety information. Due to the authors’ ties with GlaxoSmithKline, some would speculate that the safety information was purposely omitted.
This one article, with shady financial connections hidden behind the pages, influenced the medical community to promote Avandia. In doing so, the authors put countless patients at risk.
100,000 patients suffered heart attacks blamed on Avandia.
According to clinical studies that have since been released, Avandia increased heart attack risk by 43 percent and doubled the risk of heart failure after only one year of usage. Just one year.
Avandia has since disappeared from the United States.
Unfortunately, the above story is just one of the many cases where drug companies’ funding lead to biased findings.
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