Calls for more transparency after Memorial Sloan controversy
- After revelations that a top official failed to disclose numerous industry payments, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center CEO Craig Thompson told staff the organization needs to do a better job with transparency and "standardize the reporting process."
- The letter to staff, however, stressed a need to continue working with industry partners and the importance of academic freedom for individual researchers. "The issues surrounding author disclosures are complex, as there are nebulous guidelines about when and how to make voluntary disclosures," Thompson and COO Kathryn Martin wrote.
- Reporting from ProPublica and The New York Times showed that renowned breast cancer researcher José Baselga, also chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering, accepted millions of dollars from companies with which he had ties, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roche, where he had advisory roles. He did not disclose those payments when publishing research in The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine. He also violated the American Association of Cancer Research's financial disclosure rules while serving as the group's president and failed to acknowledge payments from companies associated with research he published in the AACR's journal as one of two editors.
Baselga is far from alone in failing to report potential conflicts of interest in research. According to a recent study in JAMA Oncology, 32% of doctors in a sample of cancer trials did not fully disclose their payments from trial sponsors. And a recent analysis of CMS 2015 open payments data showed a large gap between payment information doctors report and self-declared conflicts of interest.
The revelation underscores the ongoing problem of doctors and researchers accepting questionable payments from parties with millions invested on a study's outcome — and the loose and inconsistently applied disclosure policy across institutions.
Reports also show that receiving money from industry can change what physicians prescribe, but those trends only come to light when payment information is, in fact, reported.
While the AACR warns authors they may be barred from publishing in its journal for three years for failing to disclose financial relationships, the threat has never been carried out, according to ProPublica.
Still, the negative publicity surrounding the Baselga case could cause health systems to pay more attention to the issue and proactively put rules in place to disclose conflicts of interest and penalize researchers who ignore them.
Memorial Sloan Kettering told reporters Baselga had revealed his industry ties to hospital officials and was responsible for separately reporting those ties to medical journals.
The AACR, American Society of Clinical Oncology and NEJM are reviewing Baselga's omissions in light of the analysis. In response to the exposé, Baselga said he would add the proper disclosures to 17 journal articles..