Pfizer funds Canadian CME, prompting outcry

As some big-name hospitals and drugmakers back away from industry-funded medical education, the Canadian Medical Association has anted up. The CMA has teamed up with Pfizer on a nationwide educational campaign, backed by $780,000 in Pfizer funding. Predictably, the move has ignited criticism from ethicists and others. "[T]he pharmaceutical industry has no business at all educating doctors," Arnold Relman, professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School and former NEJM editor, told the Globe and Mail.

But the CMA says it's well able to keep Pfizer at arm's length from the new CME classes. The money won't influence the content--nor will the two Pfizer staffers who'll sit on a six-member administrative board charged with supervising and evaluating the program. "There's no connection between the funder and the people who are actually providing the content," said the CMA's Dr. Sam Shortt (as quoted by the Globe and Mail).

Nonetheless, Relman and others don't buy it. "[I]f you're paying the piper, you influence the tune," Relman contends. "Even under the best circumstances, there is the potential for influence," said Michael Steinman of the University of California at San Francisco. Think about it, Relman says: Why would Pfizer spend that money if it wasn't getting something out of it?

Well, there's been plenty of debate on that score. And though some teaching hospitals are taking a hard line on industry-funded CME, and drugmakers such as GlaxoSmithKline have backed away a bit from paying for commercially produced courses, the jury's still out. Some doctors take offense at the very idea that they'd be corrupted by pharma-funded education. And the American Medical Association has had the chance to ban industry-backed CME--twice--and has voted against it both times.

- read the Globe and Mail piece