As Harvard proposes, pharma disposes

Bright lights are bearing down on the financial ties between doctors and drugmakers, and both sides are primping for the hot spots. Today, you can get a peek at two of those efforts, one from each side of the divide. First, Boston Magazine has an in-depth look at the fight over Harvard Medical School faculty's payments from industry. And second, Pharmalot details a new report on drugmakers' new caps on the speaking fees paid to physicians.

First, the Harvard scoop. Boston looks behind the scenes at a long-running debate between the leading advocate of industry abstinence, Marcia Angell, and the prophet of the industry-funding-is-fine-and-dandy camp, Tom Stossel. In one juicy tidbit, the magazine highlights a public brouhaha that erupted when the two served on a panel together at a medical society meeting.

But the biggest news in the story, at least to us, was buried at the end: That Harvard committee formulating a new conflicts-of-interest policy for faculty is moving slowly for a reason, sources told Boston. "It hasn't found that there are big gaps in the current policy that need to be addressed emergently. But it wants a policy that will last for the next 20 years." To that, we say good luck.

Second, the payment caps. Big Pharma has imposed speaking-fee caps of $69,000 annually, on average, while mid-size companies have set an average cap of $33,000 and small companies, a $57,000 cap, according to a report from Cutting Edge Information.

But those averages obscure an enormous variance in amount. One drugmaker has set a cap of just $10,000, while another keeps the checks coming up to $100,000. And though 80 percent of those caps apply just to speaking fees, some 20 percent of drugmakers have caps that apply to their entire financial relationship with each doctor, from speaking to consulting to free meals and so on. Unfortunately, the report doesn't name names. So we'll have to be content with the statistics alone.

- read the Boston story
- see the post at PharmaGossip
- check out Ed's take at Pharmalot