We write a lot about Wall Street corruption here at The Audit. But if you ask me, Wall Street’s got nothing on Big Medicine, where the stakes are even bigger.
In just the last four years, four major pharmaceutical companies have reached billion-dollar settlements for criminal activities. Check out this rap sheet of kickbacks, illegal marketing, and fraud by drug companies and the resulting giant settlements (also note the accompanying lack of prosecutions).
Read Mina Kimes’s epic Fortune piece on the medical-device company Synthes, which illegally tested a product on people, several of whom died. Or ProPublica’s latest muckracker on Tylenol and acetaminophen. Or Peter Whoriskey’s OxyContin exposé in the Washington Post. That’s just a few from the last year or so.
And then there are the endemic conflicts of interest of the doctors, academics, and revolving-door regulators who take cash or gifts from medical companies and then influence their billion-dollar prospects.
The Post’s Whoriskey has a nice scoop on that today, reporting on emails turned up by an Ohio attorney that show pharma companies paid big bucks to sit in on meetings of a panel that advises the FDA on clinical trials of painkillers.
FDA officials who regulate painkillers sat on the steering committee of the panel, which met in private, and co-wrote papers with employees of pharmaceutical companies…
Even as the meetings were taking place, the idea of FDA officials meeting with firms that had paid big money for an invitation raised eyebrows for some. In an e-mail to organizers, an official from the National Institutes of Health worried whether the arrangements made it look as if the private meetings were a “pay to play process.”
FDA officials did not benefit financially from their participation in the meetings, the agency said. But two later went on to work as pharmaceutical consultants and more than this, the critics said, the e-mails portray an agency that, by allowing itself to get caught up in a panel that seemed to promise influence for money, had blurred the line between the regulators and the regulated.
For $25,000 a meeting, academics from the University of Washington and the University of Rochester gave pharmaceutical companies “impact on FDA thinking, exposure to FDA thinking, exposure to academic opinion leaders and their expertise, journal article authorship, etc.,” according to an email from the UW professor.
“Do they really expect it to be any less than 20K per meeting for all this?” Dworkin wrote…
“I don’t know how we will bury the post doc funds if we are too specific,” Turk says in another.
Usually the influence-peddling isn’t put quite so explicitly by those involved.
Good watchdog reporting by the Post.Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: Big Pharma, medical corruption, regulation, Washington Post, watchdog reporting