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To the Editor:—“The Corporate Co-author” (June, 2005 issue)1 brought national attention2 to what the JGIM editors accurately describe as “an egregious case of unethical behavior” by the pharmaceutical industry “in order to enhance corporate profits.” However, the article also raises concerns about ties between industry and medical societies that publish medical journals. One might reasonably ask, would an organization more dependent on industry funding have published the piece?

Although most organizations claim “editorial independence,” there are limits. After the Annals of Internal Medicine published Wilkes et al's.3 study critiquing drug ads, the ACP lost an estimated 1–1.5 million dollars of ad revenue, and lost its husband and wife editing team a year later.4 The recent split of the American Journal of Hypertension and the American Society of Hypertension—the Journal's Editor maintaining the society had become a marketing arm of the pharmaceutical industry, is another example.5

In 2001, we had raised concerns about a decision by the SGIM Council to accept $200,000 from the very same “ABC drugs” that commissioned the ghost-written piece.6 Following vocal opposition by members, the council reversed their decision. Since then, SGIM has wisely adopted external funding rules that have allowed it to remain free of such influence.7 Professional societies and pharmaceutical companies have different primary interests and objectives. Medical society dependence on industry “support” may lead to confusion of these interests. An example was the announcement by another medical organization of the creation of a health policy institute through a $750,000 grant from the very same “ABC drugs.”8 The press release notes that a pharmaceutical executive will have substantial input in creating the institute's “long-term strategic and operational plans.”7 The SGIM-ABC “collaboration” would have been another example of such a potential conflict.

We in the profession must not allow our goals to be subverted, and medical societies—and their journals—must lead the way. We urge other organizations to adopt external funding policies similar to those of SGIM.

REFERENCES

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  2. REFERENCES
  • 1
    Fugh-Berman A. The corporate coauthor. J Gen Intern Med. 2005;20: 5468.
  • 2
    Rubin R. Medical editors: one-sided drug reviews hard to swallow. USA Today. May 30, 2005. Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2005-05-30-drug-reviews_x.htm. Cited July 31, 2005.
  • 3
    Wilkes MS, Doblin BH, Shapiro MF. Pharmaceutical advertisements in leading medical journals: experts' assessments. Ann Intern Med. 1992;116: 9129.
  • 4
    Tsai AC. Conflicts between commercial and scientific interests in pharmaceutical advertising in medical journals. Int J Health Serv. 2003;33: 75168.
  • 5
    Winslow R, Zimmerman R. High blood pressure: doctors sever ties with medical journal. Wall Street Journal. July 29, 2005: B1.
  • 6
    Carrasquillo O, Goodman RL. Should Astra-Zeneca give us a free lunch. Society of General Internal Medicine Forum. March 2001.
  • 7
    Society of General Internal Medicine. Policy on acceptance and disclosure of external funds. Available at http://www.sgim.org/PolicyExternalFund.cfm. Cited July 31, 2005.
  • 8
    The National Medical Association Launched the W. Montague Cobb/NMA Health Policy Institute to Address Health Disparities. National Medical Association Press Release, December 10, 2004. Available at http://www.nmanet.org/pr_121004.htm. Cited July 31, 2005.