Who are the doctors, pharmacists, nutritionists, consumers, scientists, media players, and organisations involved in campaigns that benefit pharmaceutical companies and other commercial interests?

Crikey is launching a project to document the key opinion leaders who are involved in industry marketing and disease-awareness campaigns.

The first entries on the Register of Influence include prominent medical specialists and academics.

Media personality Mikey Robins also gets a guernsey, for his involvement in a successful PR campaign funded by Johnson & Johnson to promote gastric band surgery. My own history of accepting industry-funded trips is also declared – and it’s a safe bet there are many other journalists who could also do the same.

The register also documents the links between organisations, such as patient groups and disease-based lobbies, and commercial interests.

So why do we think it’s worth compiling a register like this?

Firstly, we hope it will help raise awareness about the extent of experts’ involvement, whether directly or indirectly, in industry marketing and related campaigns.

We also hope the register will encourage a wider professional debate and greater transparency about the role of key opinion leaders.

The issue is attracting increasing attention, with a British Medical Journal editorial recently calling for greater transparency about the role of key opinion leaders.

And this week, two prominent Australian cancer specialists have warned that “the proliferating connections between physicians and the pharmaceutical industry have brought the credibility of clinical medicine to an unprecedented crisis”.

“Now seems an ideal time to create a new set of guidelines to try to arrest the perception that some of the world’s leading research organisations, journals and opinion leaders are becoming part of the marketing arm of the pharmaceutical industry,” says Dr Ian Haines, from the Melbourne Oncology Group, Cabrini Health, and Professor Ian Olver, CEO of Cancer Council Australia.

Writing in the latest issue of The Medical Journal of Australia, Dr Haines and Professor Olver suggest several measures including:

• Public listing of individual gifts to specific recipients: “Doctors are paid from the public purse and should meet the same level of public disclosure and accountability as politicians and company directors.”

• Professional organisations and leading journals could consider using editorial writers, clinical guidelines committee members and reviewers with no potential conflicts of interest.

• Clinicians should consider not accepting payments from industry and instead provide their expertise pro bono.

Crikey’s Register of Influence is not intended to denigrate the key opinion leaders themselves – their involvement in such campaigns is a reflection of their expertise and standing, and reflects genuine professional concerns.

There may be a convergence between their professional goals – raising awareness of their particular area of research or clinical interest – and the goals of the company funding the campaign.

Sometimes this may be to the benefit of public health and the greater good but sometimes it may not. Sometimes the true impact of marketing campaigns may not become apparent until years afterwards, when the full extent of a product’s or a campaign’s benefits and harms becomes clearer.

In any case, we figure that it’s worth helping to contribute to a clearer understanding of the association between experts and industry marketing.

To suggest additions to the Crikey Register of Influence, please contact: [email protected] To suggest additions to the Crikey Register of Influence, please email [email protected] with “Influence of Register” in the subject line.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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