Friday, January 25, 2013

The Zyprexa bioethicists

It’s no secret that Eli Lilly has been very good to the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychiatry.  Just find a couple of the relevant databases, punch in some names, and see how many hundreds of thousands of dollars Lilly has paid out.  (Hint: some of the names you might want punch in are Schulz, Olson, Crow, and Orr.)  The rationale is not hard to figure: Lilly has produced some spectacularly lucrative psychiatric drugs, such as Zyprexa and Prozac, and academic “thought leaders” have been the key to its marketing strategy.  

But it’s not just academic psychiatrists who are on the take.  Academic bioethicists have been on the Lilly payroll for years – namely, Georgetown’s Tom Beauchamp and Yale’s Robert Levine.  Beauchamp and Levine were hired after Lilly was busted for testing the safety of new drugs on homeless alcoholics.  (Which is ethically just fine, in case you were wondering.)  Most readers of their books and articles do not know this, because unlike payments to physicians, payments to bioethicists are not governed by sunshine laws or tracked by public databases, and most bioethicists don’t disclose their industry ties in their published articles.   Take, for instance, the special issue of the Hastings Center Report on research ethics published this week, in which Beauchamp has co-authored two articles.  There is no mention whatsoever of his involvement with Lilly.

Such secrecy is not uncommon.  The financial ties between ethicists and pharma have been well-documented for years, yet for some reason, bioethics journal editors simply do not take the issue seriously.  Not only is this an embarrassment to the field; it is an insult to patients who have been injured by Lilly’s illegal marketing and fraudulent clinical trials.

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