Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wisconsin Smoking Research Center Hiding Financial Conflicts of Interest with Big Pharma

Yesterday, I revealed that the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention (UW-CTRI) is hiding its own conflict of interest with Big Pharma as well as that of its director on its page where it recommends the use of Chantix for smoking cessation. Today, I reveal that the Center is hiding its funding conflicts throughout its website and even in its annual reports.

Most of the individual web pages, including the home page, on the UW-CTRI site fail to disclose its support from Big Pharma and fail to identify the specific pharmaceutical companies supporting the Center. Only if you read the fine print - that is, a separate disclosure page, does the reader find out about the pharmaceutical funding. This is problematic, however, because most readers - especially members of the general public - are not going to specifically search for this disclosure.

Even on its funding page, the financial support from pharmaceutical companies is not acknowledged. The Big Pharma support is hidden within more general categories.

In its 20th anniversary annual report, covering the years 1992 to 2012, there is no disclosure of Big Pharma funding. On the last page of the report, a number of funders are listed, but no pharmaceutical company is mentioned.

In its 2008 annual report, the Center does acknowledge pharmaceutical funding. However, the name(s) of the companies are not disclosed. Nevertheless, in one of the articles listed in the report, a researcher with the Center disclosed that he: "has received research support from Pfizer, Nabi Biopharmaceutical, and Sanofi-Aventis and consulting fees from Nabi Biopharmaceutical."

In its 2006 annual report, the Center also acknowledges pharmaceutical funding but it again fails to disclose the name(s) of the companies from which it received funding.

The Rest of the Story

Unfortunately, UW-CTRI has not been transparent in disclosing its funding by pharmaceutical companies or the financial conflicts of interest of its individual faculty members. It took me extensive research of my own to piece together these conflicts of interest and required me to examine outside web sites (including original research articles that are not publicly available). Clearly, members of the public cannot or are not going to do this extensive research. In essence, then, UW-CTRI is hiding these important conflicts of interest from the public.

Of course, the most significant failed disclosure in my opinion is the medication page, where Chantix is promoted without any disclosure of the fact that the Center received funding from Pfizer to conduct clinical trials of Chantix and that the Center director previously had a personal financial interest in the company. Given the thousands of reports of suicides and other violent behavior in patients taking Chantix - reports that have not yet been sufficiently evaluated - I find this failed disclosure to be unacceptable.

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