Report details possible conflict of interest issues for FDA advisors

Charles Piller, a contributing correspondent for the journal Science, has published a Feature piece in the journal detailing what he describes as possible conflicts of interest issues by people who serve as advisors to the FDA. In his report, he offers examples of what he describes as possible conflicts of interest. He also suggests the FDA might want to review its rules regarding what advisors can and cannot do after they have served in an advisory role for the agency.

The Food and Drug Agency is tasked with providing a safeguard for the public. Food and drugs proposed by business entities are reviewed by teams at the agency and must win a seal of approval before they are allowed to sell a product to the public. As part of this process, the FDA calls in expert advisors to offer testimony or advice on given products, such as new drugs. In his report, Piller focuses on people who worked as advisors for the FDA who later received what could be perceived as compensation from those they have reviewed, for their efforts. He and associate Jia You looked at publicly available data concerning 107 doctor advisors and found that 40 of them received benefits such as payment for hotels or research grants. More than half of them, he notes, received over $100,000 in such “gifts,” and seven of them got more than $1 million worth. And none of the payments were reported by the FDA. One doctor in particular, he notes, received $1.9 million from a pharmaceutical company after one of its drugs was approved by a panel on which that doctor had been an advisor.

In a related segment, Piller notes that it is not just advisors who might be engaging in questionable activities. He notes that one former director for the agency who was once involved in reviewing drugs now operates a consulting business that offers advice to pharmaceutical companies on how to get their drugs approved.

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