Exposing drug industry funding of UK patient organisations

Drug firms ‘could shape the profiles of patient organisations through heavy investment’ even if they don’t have a say in their content of campaigns or research

Big pharma poured £57m into UK patient charities which could influence NHS drug decision makers, Bath University researchers’ analysis finds, the independent reports Read University of Bath blog.

Key messages

  • From 2012 to 2016 the drug industry donated over £57m (€65m; $73m) to UK patient organisations, with the annual sum more than doubling over the period
  • The funding benefited a small number of organisations and activities related to research and public involvement
  • The industry gave priority to commercially high profile conditions
  • Industry payment disclosures had limited transparency

We’ve been banging the drum about transparency of payment to doctors for years – we’ve even put a moratorium on financial conflicts of interest in the authors of any of our education articles. Not because we think that all doctors who receive money from industry are being influenced to push their agenda – but because we have no way of telling when that’s happening…

At the same time, and rightly, patient groups are becoming more involved in setting things like research priorities, and in guideline development – and we’re campaigning to increase that involvement. but as that involvement increases, it’s also important to make sure that potential industry influence is made transparent.

Piotr Ozieranski, is an assistant professor at the Department of Social and Policy Sciences at the University of Bath and one of the authors of a new analysis which attempts to build a picture of industry funding of UK patient groups.

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Reforming disease definitions : a new primary care led, people-centred approach

Drug Companies Shouldn’t Help Decide Who Is Sick, 2019

Abstract

Expanding disease definitions are causing more and more previously healthy people to be labelled as diseased, contributing to the problem of overdiagnosis and related overtreatment. Often the specialist guideline panels which expand definitions have close ties to industry and do not investigate the harms of defining more people as sick. Responding to growing calls to address these problems, an international group of leading researchers and clinicians is proposing a new way to set diagnostic thresholds and mark the boundaries of condition definitions, to try to tackle a key driver of overdiagnosis and overtreatment. The group proposes new evidence-informed principles, with new process and new people constituting new multi-disciplinary panels, free from financial conflicts of interest. Image wikimedia.

Conclusion

Developing a framework for this long-term reform and facilitating a global collaboration to enact it will involve proactive and reactive efforts that we hope will drive a cultural shift and a practical change in how diseases are defined. Research teams will continue to quantify estimates of overdiagnosis arising from current disease definitions, informing priorities for action. Actions include the constitution of new panels, with new processes and new people, to review and revise existing definitions. Concurrently, primary care organisations will become more reactive to expansions in definitions seen as increasing the risk of overdiagnosis, such as the controversial 2017 hypertension widening, explicitly rejected by the American Academy of Family Physicians, and other groups, and the rejection of the expanded definition of gestational diabetes by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. An international meeting to review progress on our proposal and develop more detailed strategies for change will take place at the December 2019 Preventing Overdiagnosis conference in Sydney

There are important limitations, uncertainties and caveats to note as we propose this ambitious reform of disease definitions, which will provoke opposition from those whose markets are directly threatened.

  1. First, we write as a group working across a multitude of influential national and international organisations, but we do not in this instance represent them.
  2. Second, our backgrounds and thinking are largely medical, and there is clearly opportunity for this initiative to be informed by evidence, experience and theories outside medicine, including, for example, from philosophy.
  3. Third, addressing the problem of expanding disease definitions is but one of many potential solutions to overdiagnosis, and much important work is underway already to try and wind back the harms of too much medicine, safely and fairly, such as calls to action within our associations, creation of new medical curricula, scientific discussion at national and international meetings and new information materials for the public.
  4. Fourth, given the novel nature of this proposal, there is not yet a mature evidence-base to support it.
  5. Fifth, there is clear synergy between this proposal and the calls for reform of clinical practice guidelines, which has not been explored in this analysis.
  6. And finally, we acknowledge moves to expand definitions, to detect and treat people earlier, are often driven by the best of intentions, and we see great merit in identifying those who will benefit from a medical label and subsequent care.

However, notwithstanding the good intentions driving a bad system, the human person can no longer be treated as an ever-expanding marketplace of diseases, benefiting professional and commercial interests while bringing great harm to those unnecessarily diagnosed.

Maternal exposure to workplace solvents may increase the risk for ASD in children

The CHARGE study : an assessment of parental occupational exposures and autism spectrum disorder

Children whose mothers are exposed to solvents at work are at higher risk of autism, shows new research.

The study found that women who are exposed to workplace solvents are 1.5 times more likely to have a child on the autistic spectrum, newnationnews reports. Image credit @ATEN_Int.

2019 Study Abstract

Objectives
The aim of this study is to determine if parental occupational exposure to 16 agents is associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Methods
Demographic, health and parental occupational data were collected as part of the CHildhood Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment (CHARGE) study. The workplace exposure assessment was conducted by two experienced industrial hygienists for the parents of 537 children with ASD and 414 typically developing (TD) children. For each job, frequency and intensity of 16 agents were assessed and both binary and semi-quantitative cumulative exposure variables were derived. Logistic regression models were used to calculate adjusted odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) to assess associations between parental occupational exposures 3 months pre-pregnancy until birth.

Results
The OR of ASD in the children of mothers exposed to any solvents was 1.5 times higher than the mothers of TD children (95% CI=1.01–2.23). Cumulative exposure indicated that the OR associated with a moderate level of solvent exposure in mothers was 1.85 (95% CI=1.09, 3.15) for children with ASD compared with TD children. No other exposures were associated with ASD in mothers, fathers or the parents combined.

Conclusion
Maternal occupational exposure to solvents may increase the risk for ASD. These results are consistent with a growing body of evidence indicating that environmental and occupational exposures may be associated with ASD. Future research should consider specific types of solvents, larger samples and/or different study designs to evaluate other exposures for potential associations with ASD.

Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals

The merging of marketing and medical science : female sexual dysfunction

As the search for the so-called ‘Pink Viagra’ continues, controversy surrounds the nature of the medical ‘condition’ such a pill would treat.

  • Do women with a low libido really have a disease called ‘hypoactive-sexual desire disorder’?
  • Does it really affect one-in-ten women as drug companies claim?

There’s already a marketed treatment for HSDD in the form of a pill called Addyi, a drug whose 2015 FDA approval came with intense debate over whether sexual desire was indeed a medical issue. Addyi has since become a commercial nonentity, in large part because women are restricted from drinking alcohol before taking it. The controversy around the drug’s approval faded along with its meager sales.

But bremelanotide, which promises a similar effect with fewer side effects, has rekindled the conversation around whether sexual desire can be a matter of pharmaceutical science.

Continue reading on stat news.

In an article in the BMJ almost 10 years ago I described the making of female sexual dysfunction as the freshest, clearest example of the “corporate sponsored creation of a disease.”1 Looking back over the past decade, it has become clear that drug companies have not simply sponsored the science of this new condition; on occasions they have helped to construct it. Corporate employees have worked with paid key opinion leaders to help develop the disease entity; they have run prevalence surveys to portray it as widespread; and they helped create the measurement and diagnostic instruments to persuade women that their sexual difficulties deserve a medical label and treatment. Drug marketing is merging with medical science in a fascinating and frightening way, raising questions about whether a new approach to defining diseases is warranted.

Continue reading on the BMJ.

Condition branding is a marketing technique in which companies develop conditions concurrently with developing drugs; examples include gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, social anxiety disorder, erectile dysfunction and hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Although it is illegal for pharmaceutical companies to market drugs prior to regulatory approval, there are no restrictions on marketing diseases, and industry seeks to establish a disease state in the minds of clinicians years before an expected drug launch. Continuing medical education (CME) courses are an important part of promotion prior to drug approval and have become a key marketing tool for increasing clinician receptivity to new products. We systematically identified 14 free, internet-based, industry-funded, accredited CME modules on hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women which came out before a new drug, flibanserin, was being considered for regulatory approval in the USA. Common themes in these modules included the following: Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is common, underdiagnosed and can have a profound effect on quality of life. Women may not be aware that they are sick or distressed. Simple questionnaires can assist clinicians in diagnosing the disorder. It is problematic that there are medicines available to treat sexual problems for men but not women. In fact, there is no scientifically established norm for sexual activity, feelings or desire, and there is no evidence that hypoactive sexual desire disorder is a medical condition. Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is a typical example of a condition that was sponsored by industry to prepare the market for a specific treatment.

Continue reading on the BMJ.

Chronic use of tramadol after acute pain episode: cohort study

Tramadol use is associated with a higher risk of prolonged opioid use in patients with an acute episode of pain compared with other short acting opioids, finds new research

2019 Study Abstract

Objective
To determine the risk of prolonged opioid use in patients receiving tramadol compared with other short acting opioids.

Design
Observational study of administrative claims data.

Setting
United States commercial and Medicare Advantage insurance claims (OptumLabs Data Warehouse) January 1, 2009 through June 30, 2018.

Participants
Opioid-naive patients undergoing elective surgery.

Main outcome measure
Risk of persistent opioid use after discharge for patients treated with tramadol alone compared with other short acting opioids, using three commonly used definitions of prolonged opioid use from the literature: additional opioid use (defined as at least one opioid fill 90-180 days after surgery); persistent opioid use (any span of opioid use starting in the 180 days after surgery and lasting ≥90 days); and CONSORT definition (an opioid use episode starting in the 180 days after surgery that spans ≥90 days and includes either ≥10 opioid fills or ≥120 days’ supply of opioids).

Results
Of 444 764 patients who met the inclusion criteria, 357 884 filled a discharge prescription for one or more opioids associated with one of 20 included operations. The most commonly prescribed post-surgery opioid was hydrocodone (53.0% of those filling a single opioid), followed by short acting oxycodone (37.5%) and tramadol (4.0%). The unadjusted risk of prolonged opioid use after surgery was 7.1% (n=31 431) with additional opioid use, 1.0% (n=4457) with persistent opioid use, and 0.5% (n=2027) meeting the CONSORT definition. Receipt of tramadol alone was associated with a 6% increase in the risk of additional opioid use relative to people receiving other short acting opioids (incidence rate ratio 95% confidence interval 1.00 to 1.13; risk difference 0.5 percentage points; P=0.049), 47% increase in the adjusted risk of persistent opioid use (1.25 to 1.69; 0.5 percentage points; P<0.001), and 41% increase in the adjusted risk of a CONSORT chronic opioid use episode (1.08 to 1.75; 0.2 percentage points; P=0.013).

Conclusions
People receiving tramadol alone after surgery had similar to somewhat higher risks of prolonged opioid use compared with those receiving other short acting opioids. Federal governing bodies should consider reclassifying tramadol, and providers should use as much caution when prescribing tramadol in the setting of acute pain as for other short acting opioids.

Dealing with strategies used by industry to influence scientific evidence

Commercial interests, transparency, and independence: a call for submissions

Help the move towards independence from commercial interests

A decade ago the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a landmark report on conflicts of interest in research, medical education, and practice.1 Highlighting benefits of collaborations between physicians, researchers, and companies to develop new products that can improve health, the report also raised substantial concerns that extensive financial ties could unduly influence professional judgments. It concluded these financial conflicts of interest could jeopardise the integrity of science, the objectivity of education, the quality of care, and public trust in medicine. The report recommended more research on conflicts of interest, improvements in transparency, and greater independence from industry.

Today we announce plans for a stream of BMJ content to revisit these concerns and ask you to join us. A key aim is to identify and respond to commercial influences on health and healthcare, to understand under what circumstances involvement with industry is truly necessary. Where it is not necessary, we want to forge a new independence from those who make and sell products, to strengthen trust in how evidence is produced and disseminated, and to drive more rational and safer use of drugs, devices, diagnoses, and data in the public interest.

Key Points

  • Problematic relationships
  • The BMJ’s response so far
  • Call for submissions

Read

Scottish government rejects “Sunshine Act” legislation on searchable database of industry payments

A lost opportunity to have transparent information on improper financial relationships between industry and healthcare professionals

Abstract

“In February, the Scottish government formally rejected a petition to introduce legislation that would have created a searchable record of all payments to healthcare professionals from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

“Sunshine” legislation has been enacted elsewhere, including in the US, Australia, and Japan, and there are voluntary efforts in the UK, Germany, and Canada.

The decision is a lost opportunity for Scottish citizens to have transparent information on the financial relationships between industry and their doctors and other healthcare professionals.”…

Read Kept in the dark: Scotland rejects “sunshine” legislation, on The BMJ, 29 March 2019.

Read Scotland rejects “sunshine” legislation on searchable database of industry payments, on The BMJ, 29 March 2019.

Detecting cervical precancer and reaching underscreened women by using HPV testing on self samples: updated meta-analyses

hrHPV testing with an appropriate assay offers a promising new strategy that could increase population coverage substantially

What is already known on this topic

  • Tests performed on self samples are less sensitive and less specific than tests performed on clinician samples when using a high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) assay based on signal amplification
  • Response rates for hrHPV testing are higher for self sampling kits than for conventional invitations

What this study adds

  • Tests performed on self samples are similarly sensitive and slightly less specific than tests performed on clinician samples when using a hrHPV assay based on polymerase chain reaction
  • Response rates for hrHPV testing continue to be higher for self sampling kits than for conventional invitations

2018 Study Abstract

Objective
To evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) assays on self samples and the efficacy of self sampling strategies to reach underscreened women.

Design
Updated meta-analysis.

Data sources
Medline (PubMed), Embase, and CENTRAL from 1 January 2013 to 15 April 2018 (accuracy review), and 1 January 2014 to 15 April 2018 (participation review).

Review methods
Accuracy review: hrHPV assay on a vaginal self sample and a clinician sample; and verification of the presence of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 2 or worse (CIN2+) by colposcopy and biopsy in all enrolled women or in women with positive tests. Participation review: study population included women who were irregularly or never screened; women in the self sampling arm (intervention arm) were invited to collect a self sample for hrHPV testing; women in the control arm were invited or reminded to undergo a screening test on a clinician sample; participation in both arms was documented; and a population minimum of 400 women.

Results
56 accuracy studies and 25 participation trials were included. hrHPV assays based on polymerase chain reaction were as sensitive on self samples as on clinician samples to detect CIN2+ or CIN3+ (pooled ratio 0.99, 95% confidence interval 0.97 to 1.02). However, hrHPV assays based on signal amplification were less sensitive on self samples (pooled ratio 0.85, 95% confidence interval 0.80 to 0.89). The specificity to exclude CIN2+ was 2% or 4% lower on self samples than on clinician samples, for hrHPV assays based on polymerase chain reaction or signal amplification, respectively. Mailing self sample kits to the woman’s home address generated higher response rates to have a sample taken by a clinician than invitation or reminder letters (pooled relative participation in intention-to-treat-analysis of 2.33, 95% confidence interval 1.86 to 2.91). Opt-in strategies where women had to request a self sampling kit were generally not more effective than invitation letters (relative participation of 1.22, 95% confidence interval 0.93 to 1.61). Direct offer of self sampling devices to women in communities that were underscreened generated high participation rates (>75%). Substantial interstudy heterogeneity was noted (I2>95%).

Conclusions
When used with hrHPV assays based on polymerase chain reaction, testing on self samples was similarly accurate as on clinician samples. Offering self sampling kits generally is more effective in reaching underscreened women than sending invitations. However, since response rates are highly variable among settings, pilots should be set up before regional or national roll out of self sampling strategies.

Whereas accuracy of new combinations of assays and self sampling devices can be evaluated in a diagnostic setting, acceptance and participation should be shown locally in a screening setting before general roll out.

Helping patients choose wisely

New UK recommendations emphasise shared decision making

As the tree of overdiagnosis has grown, efforts have been made to trim the branches. Initiatives such as Preventing Overdiagnosis, Too Much Medicine, Slow Medicine aim to increase our understanding of how it manifests itself. Efforts such as Choosing Wisely are underway to affect policy and change patient expectations and to change well-entrenched medical practices.

Abstract

Overdiagnosis and overtreatment are common, harmful to patients, and expensive. Doctors and patients tend to overestimate the benefit and underestimate harm of interventions. Choosing Wisely is a medically led campaign focusing on engaging doctors and patients in decisions about potentially unnecessary medical tests, treatments, and procedures. It started in the US in 2012 and has now been taken up in 22 countries worldwide, including the UK.

Read the full text on The BMJ, 2018.

“Helping patients choose wisely”

This statement grandly assumes that patients have no wisdom. Whilst it might well apply to many patients, there are equally many who are very well aware and informed of the best course of action to be taken.

bm Patient Karyse Day’s response, 2018.

Focusing on overdiagnosis as a driver of too much medicine

“Ironically, even though it causes harm, the effects of overdiagnosis look like benefits. People with disease that is overdiagnosed do well because, by definition, their disease was non-progressive. They are “cured” when cure was not necessary in the first place. This creates a cycle that reinforces efforts leading to more overdiagnosis. “

Healthcare is in a tailspin as the rush to offer technology and services turns otherwise healthy people into concerned patients by identifying disease that is not destined to cause them harm.

Abstract

Why overdiagnosis is hard to spot and to explain to individuals

Overdiagnosis, sometimes known as “pseudodisease,” turns people into patients unnecessarily. It identifies deviations, abnormalities, risk factors, and pathologies that were never destined to cause harm (such as symptoms, disability, or death). Overdiagnosis causes anxiety and other negative consequences of labelling; it leads to wasted resources and side effects as a result of unnecessary treatment. Here we consider overdiagnosis in asymptomatic people. Overdiagnosis also occurs (and causes harm) in symptomatic individuals when expanded disease definitions overmedicalise unpleasant ordinary life experiences, but we do not consider it here due to distinct conceptual differences between the two in terms of driving causes and ability to identify overdiagnosis in individuals.

Real but elusive trigger of too much medicine

Overtesting and overtreatment can be identified in a given patient. There is a consensus based on solid evidence that a patient with low back pain but without specific neurological signs or deficits who undergoes magnetic resonance imaging of the spine…

… continue reading on The BMJ, 17 August 2018.

Image credit newlifefoundation.