Monday, July 05, 2010

Sanofi-Funded Society of Hospital Medicine Stands Up for Lovenox

Here is another case to raise questions about the true goal of some medical societies.  As reported by Alicia Mundy in the Wall Street Journal in late June,
A medical researcher and two medical groups with financial ties to Sanofi-Aventis SA have asked federal regulators to hold off on approving generic forms of a Sanofi blood-thinner....

Citing potential patient safety issues, the head of the Society of Hospital Medicine and a medical researcher at Duke University last month sent letters to the Food and Drug Administration contending that Lovenox is too complex for any generic maker to copy fully.

Earlier this year, another Sanofi-sponsored medical group, the North American Thrombosis Forum, sent two letters in favor of Sanofi's position opposing generic Lovenox. None of the letters mentions the signer's financial support from Sanofi.

Two small drug companies, Amphastar Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc., filed applications to the FDA in 2003 and 2005 respectively seeking to sell generic Lovenox, called enoxaparin.

Of course, the two medical societies involved denied that there was any relationship between their support from Sanofi-Aventis and their concerns about the safety of biogeneric medications that might compete with a Sanofi-Aventis product (which, as the WSJ article noted, "had global sales of $4.57 billion in 2009").
Laurence Wellikson, chief executive of The Society of Hospital Medicine, which represents doctors who coordinate patient care, said his letter to the agency 'was based entirely on the best evidence-based medicine available and the collective experience of SHM's senior hospitalists.'

Ilene Sussman, executive director of the North American Thrombosis Forum, said the group's doctors are concerned about generic Lovenox, and its letter was independent of Sanofi.

The CEO of the SHM denied even a responsibility to disclose the Society's support from Sanofi-Aventis:
Dr. Wellikson said it wasn't necessary to disclose that the group receives financial support from Sanofi because its letter 'focused on providing the best, most effective care to the hospitalized patient.'

In fact, the SHM web-site includes a "disclosure of organizational support" page which suggests Sanofi-Aventis provided somewhere between $200,000 to $800,000 for three projects of the Society's projects, "pharmacoeconomics," "improving glycemic control," and "preventing VTE." The latter presumably could have something to do with anti-coagulants such as Lovenox. (The numbers are vague because the statement only discloses the amount of support provided in broad ranges.) Thus, support by Sanofi-Aventis could provide as little as 2.7% or as much as 11.1% of the Society's total income, which was noted to be $7,203,596 in its 2009 Form 990 filed with the IRS, and publicly available via Guidestar.

Given the broad mission of the SHM
SHM is dedicated to promoting the highest quality care for all hospitalized patients. SHM is committed to promoting excellence in the practice of hospital medicine through education, advocacy and research.
one wonders why it would want to get officially entangled in the approval process for specific biogeneric drugs.  If the leadership of the Society is so concerned about the safety of anti-coagulants, one wonders why they did not speak up about the case of the lethal contaminated heparin, about which we have blogged extensively, most recently here.  (I can find nothing on the web to suggest the Society, or Dr Wellikson, ever noted any concerns about this issue.)  Of course, that case involved heparin sold by Baxter International, whose production was out-sourced to a questionable supply chain.  SHM also receives support, amounting to something between 0 and $100,000, according to its "disclosure of organizational support" page, from Baxter International. 

Thus it appears that the leadership of SHM was very concerned about the safety of an anti-coagulant manufactured by a competitor of Sanofi-Aventis which could threaten that company's revenues from the drug, while Sanofi-Aventis is one of the Society's major financial supporters.  On the other hand, the leadership seemed unconcerned about the safety of an anti-coagulant sold under the Baxter International label, while Baxter-International is also one of the Society's major financial supporters.  So it is hard to tell whether the leadership is more concerned about the safety of anti-coagulants, or the financial interests of the drug companies that support it. 

The problem with the funding of health care professional societies by health care corporations that sell products or services that doctors can prescribe or order is that it raises the suspicion that such societies may use their considerable influence to serve the corporations', not patients' interests, and so undermine the professional values of the societies' members.  For this reason, Rothman et al suggested that such societies sever most of their financial ties to such corporations.(1)  (See our blog post here.)  As long as the SHM chooses to accept support from drug and device companies, questions will be asked about the effects of such support on how the Society uses its influence.  Furthermore, assertions that such support is so irrelevant that the Society need not even disclose it will only fuel more suspicion.

If ostensibly mission-driven not-for-profit health care organizations, like health care professional societies, but also including medical schools, academic medical centers, and patient advocacy groups, want the public and health care professionals to believe that they really are mission-driven, they need to spurn funding from organizations with vested interests whose service might distort these missions.

Hat tip to Steve Lucas for his comment here.


1. Rothman DJ, McDonald WJ, Berkowitz CD et al. Professional medical associations and their relationships with industry. JAMA 2009; 301: 1367-1372. (Link here.)

1 comment:

ucsfdgim said...

This is a rather stunning deviation from the etnical standards we expect from professional organizations. Amazingly, SHM allows this scandal to continue to brew and refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of this issue. SHM is fast losing its credibility as a professional organization.