Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tom Sullivan, of ACRE Fame, Is Swimming in Drug Company Cash


Wherever there is a vocal battalion of defenders of drug industry funded medical education, you are certain to find Tom Sullivan leading the charge. Sullivan writes the most prolific pro-industry CME website, Policy and Medicine. He is a founding member of ACRE, and managed all the logistics for ACRE's first embarrassing meeting, held at Brigham and Women's Hospital. He collaborates closely with John Kamp, director of the pro-commercial CME front group, Coalition for Healthcare Communication.


Simply put, Tom Sullivan loves pharma funding of medical education, and he simply can't get enough of it. Why? If you ask Sullivan, he'll wax idealistic, as he did in one of his recent posts:

"Industry CME funding improves quality, because it helps support the development of an accreditation system for compliance and professional accredited providers that thrive by demonstrating quality and developing innovative education that improves professional practice."

It would be nice to believe that his passion stems from such an altruistic vision of industry/physician collaboration. But it's not true.

Sullivan's incentive, like most of his colleagues, is money. He is the president of Rockpointe, a medical education communication company. And while I always figured he made a good chunk of cash from drug companies, I had no idea just how much, until now. The Drug Industry Document Archive (DIDA) at UCSF just released a number of documents obtained from congressional sources, one of which is this list of drug company payments to Sullivan's company.

Here’s how much industry "educational grant" money Rockpointe has made over the last three and a half years:

2006: $4,209,685

2007: $8,701,080

2008: $7,298,064

2009 (first half only): $3,237,027

Sullivan is awash in cash from all the major drug companies. In 2008, he made over $400,000 each from AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Daiichi Sanyo, Eli Lilly, Medimmune, Merck, and Novartis.

He specializes in crafting web programs and meeting symposia that are infomercials for specific drugs. For example, Novartis paid Sullivan $98,998.00 to create a two hour breakfast lecture which took place at the annual meeting of the American Society for Hypertension on May 17, 2008. The Symposium was entitled “Blocking the Renin Angiotensin System: Which Way is Best?”

Here's which way is best: the Novartis way. Novartis markets Diovan, an angiotensin receptor blocker. Furthermore, the FDA recently approved Novartis’ Valturna, a single pill combination of Diovan and Tekturna/Rasilez, another direct renin inhibitor. This symposium was chaired by Matthew Weir, M.D., who, yes, is a consultant for Novartis and who has frequently boosted Novartis products (see here, for example.)

By the way, the president of the American Society for Hypertension is none other than Henry Black, M.D., who, along with his pal Tom Sullivan, is on the steering committee of ACRE, and is also a consultant for Novartis.

My, there are a lot of dots to connect when it comes to Tom Sullivan, Rockpointe, ACRE, and the many physicians who have decided that helping drug companies market their products is the ethical way.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

um....bye, bye credibility, Mr. Sullivan

Joe said...

The medical professionals who take money from companies to speak on their behalf damage the credibility of the profession as a whole.

I came across some literature on the anti-vaccination camp insisting that vaccines cause autism in spite of that being thoroughly debunked scientifically (yes science can disprove a hypothesis).

A large part of their argument was that the doctors who advocate vaccines are being paid off by the vaccine manufacturers. That does not appear to be true as there the MMR or DPT or polio vaccines are not blockbuster profit makers. However, since so many doctors are on the take it makes it easy for people who want to believe that all of them are.

Anonymous said...

what a mess.

insider said...

Golden Acres

Anonymous said...

Thomas Sullivan is the Charles Nemeroff of CME.

Jose said...

Almost unbelievable...I wish I could remember when medicine was just a science not a unethical business!

Anonymous said...

Sullivan has his own page on Sourcewatch that tracks him and Rockpointe Corporation. Not surprise to find that Sullivan also works with the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Thomas_P._Sullivan

Randywa said...

The credibility of this site and it's owner should be questioned since if commercial CME companies go out of business it becomes a windfall for people like Dr. Carlat. Yes, there are and have been abuses in CME just as there are and have been in the speciality in which Dr Carlat practices. The downside of all this is that the average physician will have to shell more monies from their shrinking income for CME. Maybe Dr Carlat should consider not charging for his cme programs.

Anonymous said...

It never seems to fade

Daniel Carlat, M.D. said...

Randywa,

Hardly a windfall. When the CME economy is not artificially inflated by CME-as-advertising, a credit of CME goes for about $10/hour. Doctors won't pay much more for CME out of pocket, not should they. If industry got out of the CME game, my company might end up making slightly more than the $300,000/year it makes now, or maybe not. Without industry corruption, I wouldn't have such a juicy blog, and I'd get less free publicity! And why should I give CME away? I provide a service on the open market that doctors value and are willing to pay for. That's an honest business.

Anonymous said...

Sullivan is a pimp daddy!

Joel Hassman, MD said...

So, took a leave of absence and then just have a new post three weeks later without any comment to the lapse in time? Maybe the issues you post about are not common enough to post about even once a week, but don't you think you should note to readers you may not be commenting with the past regularity this blog had?

I know you have not posted some of my comments of late, as yes, they have been, shall we say, a bit hostile to some of the topic matter. But, why are people still making the mistake of being respectful and decent to those you report about who are not respectful and decent. I fully believe when one is hampered or restrained by civility and courtesy in challenging those with narcissistic and antisocial traits, you lose in the end by playing by the rules that your opponent does not respect or engage equally. And that is why your site doesn't have the bite it should, because you want to appease the very people you should be reassessing your relations with.

Just an opinion. But, as we are going to lose more ground as our alleged representatives in Washington are going to screw this profession further by their veiled interest in helping the public, when will those of responsible influence and interest realize it is time to stop being politically correct and respectful? I'm not advocating for being rude and disrespectful, at least not completely, but let's call our "colleagues" for what they are: whores and cowards, and certainly not practicing the oath they took as physicians. First do no harm, and go from least to most invasive.

Hey, we had a colleague shoot and kill dozens of people 8 days ago. Where the hell are people of leadership speaking out about this?

Silence is death. Don't believe me, just review history.

Joel Hassman, MD

Anonymous said...

His behavior is so... so... "nemeroffian."

Daniel Carlat, M.D. said...

Joel--Yes, I've been on medical leave for the past few weeks. I'm gradually getting back in the swing of things.

Anonymous said...

O Tommy Boy, the Cash the Cash is so blingy!

O tommy boy!

Tina said...

Disclosure.

I think "spokes people" and "advocates" (of any product or service) should disclose their interest in the company.

Obviously the people that stand to profit do not want to disclose their interest as their credibility would fly out the window. However, too many people fall victim to scammers who push a product without regard to the benefit or consequences to the buyer.

This applies not only to Tom Sullivan but to bloggers who promote various businesses, tv personalities and celebrities.

Disclosure.

Anonymous said...

Can you please do a review of Asante' Global site and CME programs, they are at least as corrupt as this group. I was recently invited to attend one of their Case study modules and found them coaching the Physicians on what to say and how to present the clients slides. I believe the people are Mr. Hurwitz and Lapolla, but I could be wrong on that. Please advise.

Michael S. Altus, PhD, ELS said...

Danny,

Your harsh criticism that Mr. Sullivan “specializes in crafting web programs and meeting symposia that are infomercials for specific drugs” is based on unsubstantiated evidence. You wrote:

“For example, Novartis paid Sullivan $98,998.00 to create a two hour breakfast lecture which took place at the annual meeting of the American Society for Hypertension on May 17, 2008. The Symposium was entitled ‘Blocking the Renin Angiotensin System: Which Way is Best?’ Here's which way is best: the Novartis way. Novartis markets Diovan, an angiotensin receptor blocker. Furthermore, the FDA recently approved Novartis’ Valturna, a single pill combination of Diovan and Tekturna/Rasilez, another direct renin inhibitor. This symposium was chaired by Matthew Weir, M.D., who, yes, is a consultant for Novartis and who has frequently boosted Novartis products (see here, for example.)”

What does this prove about bias? Nothing.

It seems to me that your credibility is on the line over this one.

Anonymous said...

In response to anonymous at Nov 22 at 12:01am...that company and their programs are a joke. I myself attended a recent CME program in San Antonio, and they were running around like goons. I witnessed first hand the "coaching" that the speaker received from the company reps onsite which were obviously direct orders from the pharma company hiding in the shadows, paying the bills. I felt the program had little to no educational impact. Worst of all, the whole thing was a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

Yep, Tommy boy loves cash! Ethics? Not much. This is one right-wing hawk out to make money with his drug-company friends under the garb of god's work. The videos his company churns out are pretty much infomercials. The last thing you want is people like him influencing academic research.