Some of the same health-advocacy groups that have pushed Big Pharma to make more information available to the public are failing to disclose their own funding from drug makers, a new study has found.
Researchers from Columbia University, examining Eli Lilly grant data from the first half of 2007, found that only 25 percent of the groups that received Lilly grants acknowledged those contributions on their public websites, and only 10 percent acknowledged that Lilly had sponsored an event with a grant.
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, examined Lilly’s payments to more than 160 non-profit health advocacy organizations [HAOs] and found that most groups never disclosed the ties. The funding to the groups was “closely aligned with the company’s therapeutic areas of interest,” the study found.
“In most cases, neither policymakers nor the public can readily learn about the financial relationship between an HAO and Lilly,” the authors wrote.
Although no Connecticut advocacy groups are listed as receiving Lilly funding during the 2007 study period, a number have since received Lilly grants, and most are not disclosed on the groups’ websites.
NAMI [the National Alliance on Mental Illness] of Connecticut has received $3,500 from Eli Lilly since 2008 for annual fundraising walks, according to Lilly’s grant registry. The Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement received $5,000 in 2008 for a Suicide Prevention Conference, while the University of Connecticut has received several Lilly grants for symposiums on depression and other topics.
The new study highlights continuing concerns about the ties between drug makers and the groups that advocate for patients’ rights. The authors said the lack of transparency was “disappointing because, either by design or through a convergence of interests, the HAOs in the current study pursued activities that promoted the sale of Lilly products.”
In the area of neurosciences, Lilly gave the national group NAMI $450,000 in 2007 for its Campaign for the Mind of America. NAMI, meanwhile, has advocated that cost should not be a consideration when prescribing for patients, the study authors noted. ‘‘For the most severely disabled,’’ NAMI has said, ‘‘effective treatment often means access to the newest medications such as atypical anti- psychotic and anti-depressive agents. . . Doctors must be allowed to utilize the latest breakthrough in medical science . . . without bureaucratic restrictions to the access for life-saving medications.’’
Lilly’s two bestselling products in 2007 were Zyprexa and Cymbalta, approved for the treatment of mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar mania, and depressive disorders.
Lilly’s reports were studied because it was the first company to disclose such payments to health advocacy organizations.
The study authors recommended that, “as highly trusted organizations,” advocacy groups should disclose all corporate grants, including the purpose and the amount, so that legislators, regulators and the public can evaluate possible conflicts of interest or biases in advocacy efforts.
“Since they represent themselves as promoting the public interest, health advocacy organizations should disclose to their members, legislators, and the public where their money is coming from and what they are getting the money for,” lead author Sheila M. Rothman said.