Monday, May 01, 2006

Conflicts of Interest Affecting Former US FDA Commissioner Under Criminal Investigation

This has not been a good time for former heads of US government health organizations.

The New York Times just reported that Lester M Crawford DVM PhD, who was commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for less than three months in 2006, is under investigation by a federal grand jury "over accusations of financial improprieties and false statements to congress." The Times noted that "financial disclosure forms released by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that in 2004 either Dr Crawford or his wife, Catherine, had sold shares in companies regulated by the agency when he was its deputy commissioner and acting commissioner."

The FDA has recently been criticized for the number of members of its advisory panels who have financial relationships with companies with interests in the outcomes of the panels (for example see posts here and here.) The story above raises concerns that conflicts of interest affected the FDA at its highest level. The conclusions I just wrote after concerns were raised about conflicts of interest affecting a former Secretary of the US Department of Veterans Affairs seem worthy of restatement.

Although it may be too early to be definitive about all the details of this case, this is a reminder that conflicts of interest in health care may not be limited to physicians getting hand-outs from pharmaceutical and device companies. Conflicts may affect leaders of all sorts of health care organizations as well as physicians, and the effects of such conflicts may be proportional to the influence of such leaders.

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