Conflict of Interest Disclosures Missing From the Fine Print

The “honor system” for reporting authors’ financial ties to industry in research journals has some flaws, according to an investigation from The New York Times and ProPublica. Lapses by researchers – for instance, failing to disclose consulting fees or payments made to their institutions – are often not caught by journals, which don’t routinely vet disclosures. The list of doctors who did not report their relationships with pharmaceutical and health-care companies has grown. The investigation found that the following scientists had undisclosed relationships:

  • Howard A. Burris III, MD, president-elect of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, declared he had no conflicts of interest in more than 50 journals even though drug companies paid his employer nearly $114,000 in consulting and speaking fees.
  • Robert J. Alpern, MD, dean of the Yale School of Medicine, failed to disclose in a 2017 journal article about a treatment developed by Tricida that he served on the company’s board of directors and owned its stock.
  • Carlos L. Arteaga, MD, director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center in Dallas, did not mention he received $14,000 from Novartis in a study about a breast cancer drug made by the company.

There are few repercussions for investigators who fail to correctly enumerate their conflicts of interest, though the reports noted that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors is considering penalties against those in violation of conduct policies. Some institutions have pushed back, arguing that journals need to come up with consistent disclosure rules because most authors are not intentionally skirting their transparency obligations.

Source: The New York Times, December 8, 2018.

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