Pfizer announced today that it will begin to disclose payments made to physicians in a public online database beginning in the first half of 2010. Not only does this signal another Big (+ Wyeth = Bigger!) Pharma player hopping on the voluntary disclosure train, it would be the first company to post such information including payments to PIs of clinical trials.

Even though Pfizer is proposing a higher reporting threshold of $500, which would miss out on a healthy portion of payments like meals, the move takes more wind out of the already drooping sail of an argument the industry is hammering Massachusetts regulators with: that disclosure of clinical trial payments is Fatal to Business (especially, to hear them tell it, the Massachusetts Convention Industry).

It’s worth remembering Eli Lilly already discloses consulting and advisory payments on its website, and had pledged to widen that disclosure to match the Physician Payments Sunshine Act by 2011 (go here to read about other company promises) – so it could be said that Pfizer’s announcement is a case of the Great One-Up. But coming now – as Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health continues to come under industry fire for drafting regs that would require companies to do as Pfizer is doing – the move is significant.

As Newton’s First Law of News requires, the wires also brought this not-so-great report out of Minnesota indicating that the ethics chair and outgoing dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School, Dr. Deborah Powell, has significantly weakened recommendations by her own conflict of interest reform committee, which handed in a bold and comprehensive draft COI policy earlier this academic year.

According to the Minnesota Daily, which received a copy of the unreleased draft, “key elements of the task force’s recommendations, believed by some to be among the most needed changes, are notably absent from Powell’s draft, among them a recommendation to sever financial ties between industry and continuing medical education programs.”

Among those nips and tucks Dean Powell made to the committee’s recommendations? Yep, research:  “The task force recommended that faculty fully disclose the source of research funding as well, particularly those with clinical trials funded by industry,” but such disclosure didn’t make it into the new draft, either.

“They gutted it,” Center for Bioethics professor Carl Elliott told the Daily. Another Minnesota faculty member, Gary Schwitzer, a health journalist who has been a strong voice in calling for the separation of pharma money and faculty, told the paper he had not seen the latest draft at all, and American Medical Student Association Scorecard Director Gabriel Silverman said that the draft changes would take his read on the policies from strong to “borderline.”

Dean Powell, whose leadership of the task force was already marred by reports that the co-chair she named, Dr. Leo Furcht, was sanctioned for violating the university’s old conflict of interest policies, will step down as medical school dean but continue to chair the ethics reform committee, according to the Daily.