In August of this year, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a historic bill limiting drug company payments to doctors and requiring disclosure of any other payments. The pharmaceutical industry battled the law tooth and nail before their defeat. At one point, GlaxoSmithKline actually blackmailed the state, saying it would stop doing business in Massachusetts if the law were passed.
Now that it is law, the companies are back at their shenanigans, trying to water down the official regulations that the Department of Public Health will use to enforce the bill. And they've been quite successful. As covered in today's Boston Herald, the proposed regulations do not require that companies disclose research payments to doctors.
According to John Auerbach, the public health commissioner, the regulations were written this way for fear that forcing disclosure of such payments would keep clinical trials out of the state. Wait a minute--this sounds exactly like the bogus industry arguments that failed to prevent the bill from passing in the first place!
The fact is that doctors are paid millions to conduct research studies, and we have a right to know this information. If there is truly nothing wrong with doing research with industry (and I agree with this), why should the money remain hidden?
The companies argue that publishing this information gives their competitors information about their research plans. The problem with this argument is that information about clinical trials is already publically available on an online registry of clinical trials. Beginning in 2005, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors announced that they would only consider for publication research that was posted on this registry, in order to prevent the problem of publication bias. There are currently 65,825 trials registered. So if you are Pfizer, and you want to know what kind of research Eli Lilly is conducting, the answer is only a few clicks away.
It's time for the Department of Public Health to stop meeting with drug company lobbyists and to start writing regulations that reflect the will of the people.