Institute of Medicine: Time to nix pharma gifts

The government's top medical advisers are now putting their two cents into the conflict of interest debate. The Institute of Medicine says that collaborations between medical professionals and drugmakers can benefit society, but financial ties are getting in the way. In the 353-page report, IOM's Committee on Committee on Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice warns that current industry practices are negatively influencing research and patient care. 

The Committee calls on medical professionals to cut or restrict many practices that have now become a common element of relationships between pharma and medical professionals, including the elimination of free meals, gifts and travel arrangements. Drug samples? Only for those who can't afford the meds. Meetings with sales reps? Restricted. Pharma-sponsored presentations and ghost-writing articles? Out. And researchers are being advised not to sign on for studies if they have a financial stake in the outcome.  

Former Merck CEO Dr. P. Roy Vagelos tells the New York Times that he was worried for years that pharma and medical device makers had too much influence. "I think medical centers and companies will start to listen to these recommendations and to take them very seriously."

To make sure this happens, medical institutions are being asked to draft conflict of interest policies which require disclosure from the institution as well as individuals, and create committees that keep an eye on pharma ties. And different policies wont work anymore, says the organization, it's time for the medical community to get on the same page and develop an industry standard disclosure policy. The IOM says it would also like to see Congress create a centralized national disclosure reporting database to ensure accountability.

Sen. Charles Grassley, who has pushing for disclosure among physicians and researchers, welcomed the endorsement. "It's a shot in the arm to the reform movement to have the prestige and policy heft of the Institute of Medicine on the side of transparency," Grassley tells the New York Times. "The more disclosure, the better, for holding the system accountable and building public confidence in medical research and practice."

- here's a brief rundown from IOM
- read more in the New York Times

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