Should pharma have to disclose funding for patient groups?

Here's an unintended consequence: Eli Lilly stepped up to the disclosure plate, becoming the first drugmaker to release its list of grants. Researchers took that new data, analyzed it, and found that only a quarter of the health advocacy groups that received grants actually mentioned Lilly's funding on their websites, and only 18 percent mentioned it in their annual reports. Even those that did mention the financial link didn't disclose the amount.

The researchers from Columbia University's public health school looked at 161 organizations and data from the first half of 2007. Lilly gave $3.2 million to advocacy groups during that time frame, targeting groups dealing with psychiatric or neurological problems such as depression or schizophrenia, endocrine illnesses such as diabetes, and cancer. As the Los Angeles Times points out, those three areas were Lilly's three top performers by U.S. sales, together bringing in $10.1 billion.

The study has lawmakers promising to consider new disclosure rules for patient organizations, the New York Times reports. Doctor payments now have to be disclosed, so why not these grants? After all, advocacy groups lobby agencies and lawmakers on patients' behalf, and they act as public relations agents for particular diseases and patient groups, the researchers said.

"I'm not saying it's wrong, just that it should be disclosed," Professor Sheila Rothman told the NYT. "There is no way at this point that you can follow the money as a citizen, a health care provider or as a legislator or regulator."

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