Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ghostbuster

Blast! My cunning plan to outsource future writing projects is in jeopardy. It appears that my own senator, Chuck Grassley, is ready to crack down on the practice of medical ghostwriting. One interesting tidbit from this story….one of the academics who put her name on a Wyeth-financed, ghostwritten article also happens to be the Wyeth-Ayers Professor of Women’s Health at Columbia. I am not joking. At least that’s truth in advertising.

So why does this ghostwriting business fascinate me so, and what does it have to do with infection prevention? As Mike and I have alluded to several times in this blog, industry influence is becoming increasingly pervasive in the infection control world. As more companies develop devices that aid in infection prevention, they have an obvious interest in seeing their technology widely adopted. The companies won’t continue to exist if they don’t turn profits, and much of the technology is good! So they adopt a variety of practices to enhance the adoption of said technology, including co-opting experts and “opinion-leaders” through the use of research funding, speaking honoraria, consultancies and advisory boards, hiring lobbying firms to influence legislative and other government decisions, funding “grass roots” consumer advocacy around specific infection prevention issues, etc., etc. The major area where we see this now is with MRSA screening.

So as you are reading and assessing the literature, keep a careful eye on potential conflicts of interest with entities that stand to gain from the results of a study or from the conclusions of an editorial or review. One recent (thankfully, non-MRSA) example was brought to my attention by a colleague: the June issue of ICHE had two articles and an editorial on H2O2 mist systems for hospital room disinfection. I blogged about these interesting articles here. What I failed to point out in my post was that ICHE allowed the editorial to be written by someone who is both a paid consultant to Bioquell (makers of an H2O2 vapor system) and who was senior author on a Bioquell-supported research study in the same issue (a paper with four authors that are employed by Bioquell). I have no questions about the integrity of this person, a true giant in the academic infection control world, and the editorial did disclose the conflict. But the fact that he is a paid consultant to Bioquell should have disqualified him from writing the editorial, period.

P.S. As regards glass houses and stone-throwing, I must point out that I am no innocent when it comes to industry ties. Though I dropped all speaker’s bureaus over 5 years ago and do not do any consulting or advisory board work, I lead an antifungal resistance surveillance laboratory that has received research funding from Pfizer, Schering-Plough, Astellas and Merck. Full disclosure! I can go into boring detail on how I manage these potential conflicts with anyone who cares to know.

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