In a red-letter week for the Physician Payments Sunshine Act (which appeared in the Senate Finance Chairman’s Mark of health reform yesterday), the transparency bill got another nod from the editors of Nature, who endorsed the measure as part of a necessary move toward better oversight and clarification of researchers’ financial relationships to industry, arguing that such transparency is critical to preserving industry-academic collaboration and public trust in the National Institutes of Health. (It’s important to note, as the editors do, that the Sunshine Act would only apply to physicians, and not all scientific researchers.)

“An honor system is only as good as the clarity of its rules — and the effectiveness of the oversight,” write the editors, pointing to a series of investigations by Sen. Grassley’s aide Paul Thacker, whose work revealing academic researchers’ undisclosed millions from industry is spotlighted in the issue. The Sunshine Act would require drug and device companies to disclose payments to physicians, hospitals, and medical schools. The payments would be posted in a publicly-searchable online database.

The editors caution that such a website “should…make it very clear that industry–academic collaboration is a valuable, indeed an essential, driver of biomedical innovation,”  so that researchers listed on the website are not automatically suspected of any wrongdoing, which could stifle legitimate and scientifically important research relationships.

But that’s the very strength of the Sunshine Act, Nature says:

“[T]he ubiquitous interconnections between industry and academia — and the very desirability of a permeable boundary between the two — are probably the most compelling argument for the Sunshine Act. The transparency it would provide is a long overdue corrective to a culture that has too often seemed to look the other way when it comes to potential conflicts of interest. Such transparency would both shore up public trust and prompt researchers to tougher self-scrutiny as they complete their disclosures.”
Read the full editorial here.

We posted earlier this year on the efforts by National Institutes of Health to shore up its disclosure and transparency policies, and our recommendations to the Institutes.

– Kate Petersen, PostScript blogger