Ubiquitous industry ties have risks and benefits


By the time they’ve reached their third year of medical school, said Eric G. Campbell, Ph.D., virtually all medical students have accepted a free meal from drug companies. While this treat may appear to be a small gift, it could also be the first of many that lead young doctors and scientists into conflicts of interest and the erosion of trust between physicians and the public.

“There’s a lot of eating going on in academic medicine,” joked Campbell, an associate professor of medicine (health policy) at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who spoke at the Perspectives on Medicine series in March.

Relationships between industry and academia are not necessarily bad, Campbell said, noting that the pharmaceutical industry underwrites $1.5 billion in research each year. “They have benefits that are very important,” he said. But industry-sponsored junkets, along with ghostwriting, speaking, consulting, and advisory fees can create the impression that medical findings are “bought and paid for,” he added.

“Managing conflicts of interest is a fundamental part of medical professionalism today,” Campbell said. “We need to disclose these things and we need to manage them.”