Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dispute at the American Society of Hypertension Over Industry Involvement

The Boston Globe reported that a dispute has broken out at the American Society of Hypertension over the influence of pharmaceutical companies and conflicts of interest. Things have gotten pretty messy, so it's not easy for an outsider to tell what are at its roots.
There are two factions, one who "expresses wariness about industry participation and a newer faction that embraces it," according to the Globe.
In the first faction is Dr. John H. Laragh, a society cofounder and editor of the American Journal of Hypertension. In an email to the Society's membership, he charged that "the lines separating marketing from education have been fractured." Prof. Curt Furberg, former member of the Society's executive council, agreed that "the society is seen as a marketing tool by industry. There is a lot of money to go around."
Furthermore, Laragh said that industry involvement has increased at the society's annual meeting. This year, industry-sponsored sessions, instead of being isolated as "satellites," were "intertwined with the rest of the program." He noted that one society member, who also is a founding partner of a company that administers clinical trials under contract with the pharmaceutical industry, chaired a meeting to discuss the results of a trial that his company administered.
In the second faction is the President of the Society, Dr. Thomas Giles. He said that industry involvement is "part of a 'partnership' between physicians, corporations, and government and can be managed with appropriate disclosure rules, " according to the Globe. He noted that unrestricted educational grants from pharmaceutical companies, notably Novartis, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer, financed about $1.5 million of the Society's $4.4 million budget. He said, "we will not put ourselves in the position where were [sic] are going to function as the marketing arm for anyone."
Laragh has also acquired "enemies," who questioned his editorial salary ($229,000 in 2003), and whether he "engineered" his wife's new position as President-Elect of the Society.
Not a pretty picture, but I guess that more open discussion about the role of industry in scientific and clinical societies may do some good.

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