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The new hybrid career as doctor/corporate-lobbyist

Update: February 22, 2012

An FDA advisory committee of doctors voted to approve the Vivus drug Qnexa despite the unknown risk to heart valves and know risk of birth defects. David Letterman’s doctor, Lou Aronne, internist and weight loss expert, had visited the FDA as a hybrid lobbyist/doctor.

Update: May 27, 2011

The Senate Finance Committee is investigating the conflicts of interests between medical societies and individual doctors paid millions of dollars by drug companies, who then double as lobbyists and petition the FDA for causes favoring the branded drugs. The Healthcare Channel was the first to recognize this as pure lobbying, in our April 29th story, below.

April 29, 2011

Steven Greer, MD for The Healthcare Channel

Medical societies have long been officially-registered lobbyist organizations with offices in Washington, DC. However, what seems to be an alarming new trend is now for individual doctors, receiving industry funding, to visit The Hill or The FDA to lobby on behalf of those companies’.

The Wall Street Journal reported that an epidemiologist, Emily Gower, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, was funded by Roche/Genentech to create a retrospective study comparing the safety of Lucentis versus “generic” Avastin for the treatment of wet macular degeneration. This study was commissioned to offset the negative effects of the NIH-funded CATT trial that showed the much more expensive Lucentis, at an 8000% premium to Avastin, was no more effective and equally safe to Avastin. Dr. Gower’s study claims that Lucentis is safer, justifying the huge expense and $1.6 Billion in revenue to Roche.

According to the WSJ, Dr. Gower was taken along with Roche executives to The Hill to lobby for maintaining reimbursement of Lucentis in the wake of the CATT results. Roche characterized her discussions as “scientific” rather than lobbying.

Dr. Gower is yet to present or publish the aforementioned Roche-funded study. If she discussed these data and conclusions with anyone, including congress, CMS, or the FDA, it would be violating most medical journal and medical society rules.

Dr. Gower did not reply to our calls or emails.

Something similar to the Dr. Gower lobbying described above occurred in 2007 when Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steve Nissen went to The Hill to push his agenda: that the diabetes drug made by GlaxoSmithKline, Avandia, was unsafe. Like Dr. Gower, he had a “smoking gun” white paper set to be published that concluded Avandia was unsafe, and he revealed the results to numerous groups prior to publication. This is according to some members of congress who questioned him before an oversight hearing.

More recently, David Letterman’s doctor, Lou Aronne, internist and weight loss expert based in Cornell’s New York Presbyterian Hospital, went to the FDA to lobby on behalf of several small struggling biotechnology companies that have suffered regulatory setbacks with their weight loss pills. Dr. Aronne has a lengthy list of financial disclosures indicating that he receives payments from the companies for which he was lobbying on their behalf (Orexigen, Vivus, Arena Pharmaceuticals).

As state and federal budgets are running with significant deficits, and the states unable to print money to survive as the federal government does, the lucrative funding from industry has become more powerful within state-funded medical centers. The biggest controversies twenty years ago might have been whether a doctor received too many free meals or trips from a healthcare company. Now, it seems that it is acceptable for active faculty members to double as paid lobbyists for the industries.

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