Advocacy Groups Mum on Pharma Ties

Most health advocacy groups don't disclose funds from pharmaceutical companies.

ByABC News
January 14, 2011, 5:48 PM

Jan. 16, 2011— -- Most health advocacy groups that portray themselves as grassroots organizations fail to disclose the pharmaceutical company grants they receive, researchers said.

A comparison of Eli Lilly & Co.'s public grant registry with the disclosure information posted on the recipients' websites showed that only 25 percent made any mention of the company's involvement, and none specified the dollar amount given, according to a study published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

"Thus, in most cases, neither policymakers nor the public can readily learn about the financial relationship between an HAO [health advocacy organization] and Lilly," wrote Sheila M. Rothman, PhD, of Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues.

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Several of the large global pharmaceutical companies now make public their educational grants to other organizations, but Lilly was the first to do so, starting in 2007.

As Rothman and colleagues explained, the agendas of advocacy groups often overlap with industry's marketing interests. For example, they may seek FDA approval or more generous reimbursement for a company's product. They may also want to increase public or physician awareness of a disease, which could increase a company's sales of drugs or devices for treating that disease.

The researchers cited HIV-AIDS activist groups in the 1980s for establishing the model for contemporary advocacy organizations.

For purposes of the study, Rothman and colleagues defined HAOs as nonprofit groups "concerned with healthcare in which both the leadership and membership were drawn predominantly from the general public."

During the first half of 2007, Lilly's grant registry listed 188 recipients who met these criteria, the researchers indicated. Of these, websites for 161 were located and searched for funding disclosure information.

These groups received a total of $3.2 million from Lilly during the period, about 10 percent of its total grant-giving.