In a week where spending your taxpayer dollars on bad investments suddenly sounds like a ‘rescue plan,’ read this: the FDA spent a chunk of their not-so-spare change  (OK, so $300,000 is a lot less than $700 B) to hire a PR firm to “create and foster a lasting positive public image of the agency for the American public,” the Washington Post revealed this week. Instead of issuing the request for bids required for federal government work, a former public affairs executive for a medical-device firm now working for the FDA orchestrated a no-bid contact through Alaska Newspapers, Inc, which isn’t subject to government bidding requirements because of its special status. 

So are we more enraged at the fact the agency went the good ol’ boys route and circumvented the rules process to find the best and lowest-cost bidder, or that even as the chronically under-funded agency was asking Congress for more dollars to shore up its crumbling safety and oversight divisions, it was working this hard and shelling out this much to shine up the story in tomorrow’s social studies books? Right now, we’d say it’s a coin toss.

Putting ADHD drug ads in timeout

The FDA has warned five drugmakers about false or misleading advertisements of five ADHD drugs, according to the Bureau of National Affairs Health Care Daily Report. “The FDA sent letters to Eli Lilly and Co., Mallinckrodt Inc., Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, and Shire Development.” One of them was a video testimonial by Extreme Celebrity Home-giver Ty Pennington for Shire’s Adderall XR, an unapproved ad the FDA says overstates efficacy but which company officials claim was never supposed to leave the Shire website, where the side effects, dosage and indications were plain for all to see.

The pre-emption question

As the Supreme Court’s November date with pre-emption case Wyeth v. Levine nears, this Boston Globe editorial argues the evidence has shown that the FDA approval process requires “insufficient proof” of drugs’ safety “and then does not recognize their harmful effects quickly enough.” The Globe continues: “the Supreme Court has no business depriving patients of their recourse to courts.”

Pharmalot’s Ed Silverman has made his site the one-stop shop for all things pre-emption. Check out his syllabus here.

Media matters

And in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance look at news reports on industry-funded pharmaceutical studies in the mainstream media and found that about 40% of 300 major news stories failed to mention the source of the study’s funding. 

Of course, reporters aren’t alone – recently, major medical journals have been discovered to have missing disclosure statements from industry-funded authors, and Congressional queries have found giant gaps in payment disclosures by university researchers. When it comes to disclosure, these researchers seem to be asking that the fourth estate go first.

UMN ponders new stronger COI policy

Minnesota Public Radio revealed leaked recommendations by a University of Minnesota medical school task force on new conflict of interest policies. The recommendations called for health care providers to disclose to patients any interest they have in companies whose products they prescribe them, developing a conflict of interest website, a complete phaseout of industry funding for continuing medical education, and a requirement that all physician-industry relationships be disclosed (currently, only payments above $10,000 are required to be reported). The University received a D on the American Medical Student Association scorecard for its current policies earlier this year. Here’s the AP follow-up.

Cephalon settlement calls for disclosure

As part of $444 million in settlements of whistleblower lawsuits related to illegal off-label marketing, Cephalon is the first drugmaker to enter into a corporate integrity agreement that will require it to disclose prominently payments to physicians and amounts on its website; the move comes a week after Eli Lilly and Merck announced they will voluntary disclose such payments beginning next year; two years ago, five medical device makers began to disclose such payments under a similar settlement agreement to Cephalon’s.

Find out more at Marketwatch and Wall Street Journal Healthblog.