width=This week, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) sent a letter to the FDA asking about just how and why the agency chose non-profit EthicAd to partner on the creation of the “Be Smart About Prescription Drugs” website, launched last month to help consumers navigate drug ads. width=

In September, we had some questions of our own about EthicAd’s mysterious funding sources and close ties to Shaw Science Partners, a pharmaceutical marketing company with a long list of Big Pharma clients.  We broke news of Shaw Science Partners and EthicAd’s office- and phone-sharing arrangement here on Postscript, and look forward to hearing of the agency’s reply. 

And the latest joint probe of the Senate Finance Committee and the Special Committee on Aging, Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) are looking into industry payments received by Columbia University cardiologist and stent entrepreneur Martin Leon and other Columbia researchers at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation.  The probe seems to center around the CRF’s industry–sponsored device conference, Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics, and Leon’s ties to the sponsoring companies.

Here’s more at Bloomberg.

But it’s only the latest investigation, and if history’s any guide, won’t be the last. With the troubling discovery of piles of undisclosed industry payments an Emory University psychiatrist took from a company whose drug he was testing on the government’s dime, and new revelations about the wag-the-dog marketing tactics used to push Neurontin, editors of the New York Times and Atlanta Journal-Constitution write this week that all this coziness between drug companies and doctors “underscores the need for Congress to pass a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley and Herb Kohl, that would require drug companies and other medical manufacturers to publicly disclose payments to physicians that exceed $500 a year.” (10/11, New York Times).

The Journal-Constitution went further in its recommendation, saying passage of the disclosure bill – also known as the Physician Payments Sunshine Act – is a “bare minimum,” and that the “culture that has infected drug company sponsorship of academic medicine needs a thorough cleansing,” including a “temporary reduction in the amount of money going into research and continuing physician education.”(10/12, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

And another editorial in the Arizona Republic this week takes a puzzling non-stand on the PPSA: First they were against, then they were for it? In the end, we’re not really sure. Just like the writers don’t seem very sure whether or not doctors are influenced by pharmaceutical marketing. The verdict?  “Probably not.” Sure, we’d heard the West is a place of fewer words, but this is taking it too far.

The first two editorials were no doubt spurred by the controversy around Dr. Nemeroff’s busy speaking schedule. News came this week that he’s about to get a little less busy – the National Institutes of Health have hit pause on the 5-year, $9.3 depression grant that Nemeroff was heading up at Emory. The AJC says despite his freed up schedule, Nemeroff is still turning down interviews.

And over at A Healthy Blog, RxP’s Kathy Melley looks ahead at what we’ve all been waiting for. Our 401Ks back? Ok, the other thing we’ve been waiting for – the decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals on prescription data-mining bellwether case, Ayotte v. IMS Health.

“The court ruling could have the effect of ratcheting up or down state legislative activity on data mining,” Melley writes, but that “regardless of where the court comes down, there’s a good chance the U.S. Supreme Court may be the final arbiter on this issue.”

Medical students and local physicians will rally at the Harvard Medical School campus today, urging their adminstrators to create better conflict-of-interest policies around pharmaceutical marketing.  According to a press release from the American Medical Student Association, which is capping its National PharmFree Week at the Longwood medical campus in Boston, “Students are asking for involvement in the policy drafting process, increased transparency, mandatory lecturer disclosure and a reasonable timeline for drafting and implementation.”

Check out the AMSA scorecard rating medical school COI policies here.