The supplement is both accurate and is a veiled advertisement for the use of Seroquel in the treatment of bipolar depression.
Commercial bias and accuracy of content make excellent bedfellows, because accurate and academic presentations of material give the articles exactly the aura of legitimacy that the sponsor is purchasing.
The Current Psychiatry supplement was entitled “Diagnosing and Managing Psychotic and Mood Disorders,” which is an extremely broad topic. There are hundreds of approaches one might use in covering the topic.
For example, one could focus specifically on depression with psychotic features, in which you’d emphasize the overall superiority of ECT, while also covering a variety of combinations of antidepressants and antipsychotics.
You could focus on treating mood problems as they arise in schizophrenia, most commonly depression and suicidal ideation. Such an article (here is one example) would focus primarily on antidepressants.
You could focus on treating psychosis in patients with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, in which case you would talk about Abilify over and over again, as happened in this recent CME supplement sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb, and published by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
You could focus on the treatment of acute mania, in which case you’d pretty much have to give equal airtime to all the atypicals and the mood stabilizers.
But, in 3 of the 4 cases presented, Dr. Goldberg and colleagues chose to focus their attention on the treatment of acute bipolar depression. It just so happens that Seroquel is one of two treatments FDA-approved for bipolar depression. It just so happens that AstraZeneca funded the supplement.
Of course, the “it just so happens” part is the core of the problem. There was nothing random about it. The authors knew exactly who was funding the supplement, and they chose to highlight the advantages of Seroquel because of this.
If you take great care in choosing the topic, you can always find one that will inevitably highlight the sponsor’s product. This is fine, as long as it is clear to the readers that it is a promotional activity. For example, on the Seroquel.com website, there is plenty of accurate information about the advantages of Seroquel for bipolar disorder, including a case study similar to the cases presented in this supplement. This is an excellent source of information for those interested in learning about patients for whom Seroquel is helpful. But it’s an advertisement, festooned with Seroquel logos. It is transparent, and it is honest.
The Current Psychiatry supplement is neither transparent nor honest, because it holds itself out as being accredited Category 1 CME. ACCME criteria are explicit that accredited CME cannot be crafted in order to endorse the sponsor’s product. Specifically, this supplement violates Standard 5.1 of the ACCME’s Standards for Commercial Support, which states: “The content or format of a CME activity or its related materials must promote improvements or quality in healthcare and not a specific proprietary business interest of a commercial interest.”
This is the point in the debate where defenders of commercial CME will argue that this not conflict of interest, but rather “convergence” of interests. AstraZeneca gains by showcasing Seroquel, and the physicians gain by learning about a good treatment. But this is called advertisement and promotion, not CME. If the Current Psychiatry supplement had been preceded by the statement, "The following is a product advertisement funded by AstraZeneca," there would be no controversy about it at all.
Getting the ACCME seal of approval is supposed to mean something. It means that the educators have one single agenda in mind: helping physicians sort through the complexities of diagnosis and treatment in order to do the right thing by their patients. The Current Psychiatry supplement, however, was written with two agendas: educating practitioners and selling Seroquel.