We heard the Early Reader gets the Bookworm, but whether that’s fact or fable, the Reader gets an early start this week with news that Stanford University School of Medicine will be decoupling pharmaceutical industry funding from its continuing medical education programs, effective Monday. The move comes in the wake of Congressional inquiries into a Stanford psychiatrist’s financial interests and research post earlier this year, as well as growing calls for limits on industry involvement with doctors’ continuing education.

According to the San Jose Mercury-News, the new policy mandates that “companies will no longer be able to designate that their contributions be used for specific types of medical training, to limit the companies’ ability to tailor those sessions around their products.”  These restrictions make Stanford’s CME policy among the strongest in the nation.

“It’s a good plan, and it’s a big deal that a place like Stanford has adopted it,” Dr. Murray Kopelow told the New York Times.  Kopelow heads the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. “When this is all over, medical education will not be the same as what it’s been.”

All-you-ever-wanted-to-know at:

Wall Street Journal Health Blog

San Francisco Chronicle

Chronicle of Higher Education

Speaking of CME, this historical look at industry involvement in continuing medical education in last week’s Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrates just what a ‘therapeutic jungle’ it is out there. According to authors Scott Podolsky and Jeremy Greene, concerns about industry involvement in medical education are much the same now as they were 50 years ago, though they argue the stakes are higher now.

“Technological and regulatory solutions intended to defend professional control over knowledge circulation—such as CME—have instead provided novel sites of intersection between pharmaceutical marketing and physician education,” they write.

Label liability?

And now to Washington, where this week the FDA finalized a rule that will make it tougher to update a drug label to reflect warnings and side effects.

According to the BNA Health Care Daily Report:

“The final rule published in the Aug. 22 Federal Register (73 Fed. Reg. 49603) allows manufacturers to submit a supplemental application to amend the labeling for an approved product to reflect newly acquired information and to add or strengthen a contraindication, warning, precaution, or adverse reaction if there is sufficient evidence of a causal association with the product.

‘Expressly requiring that a CBE supplement reflect newly acquired information and be based on sufficient evidence of a causal association will help to ensure that scientifically accurate information appears in the approved labeling for such products,’ the FDA said.

Critics are saying that the rule adds up to immunity for drug makers, who would no longer have to warn consumers about drug risks or new side effects without proof of causation and newly acquired information. The American Association for Justice, which holds the new rule protects drug manufacturers, told the BNA the FDA’s decision “leaves the drug and device companies too much discretion in determining when to include safety hazards on warning labels.”

Baby steps

In other FDA news, the agency signaled it would be revising rules on over-the-counter cough and cold medications for children, according to the Washington Post. Last fall, an advisory panel convened to look at the safety and efficacy of the drugs, which have been linked to children’s deaths and have not been put to effectiveness tests.

Now, a year on, the agency has scheduled a meeting on Oct. 2 to consider questions about whether the products should be proven effective or safe to remain on the market, and if so, how. Baby steps? Maybe. But experts say this is how it gets done.

“This is how the agency can take these products off the market,” Baltimore Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein told the Post.  “I think this signals the agency is going to apply a modern standard of safety and efficacy to these products, and that is a standard these products cannot pass.”

Sharfstein organized the citizens’ petition filed in March 2007 requesting that the FDA review the safety of these drugs.

And the midyear update from the National Conference of State Legislatures says that prescription drugs continue to be a hot topic in state houses everywhere; 540 pharmaceutical-related bills have been filed this year, to date.

If you don’t already know about it, these topical legislative reports on the NCSL website are a dynamite resource: You can read description of all prescription drug bills filed so far this year by state, topic, or status of bill.  Find clusters of states where similar legislation has been introduced, or just see things that make you go ‘Hmm.’  Like how earlier this year Florida House members passed H.9065, a non-binding resolution honoring PhRMA on the anniversary of its program…honoring pharma.