Experimental Drugs


"Financial advisers who sell you insurance or mortgages are required by the rules to tell you how much commission they will earn as a result of your custom," write Jammi Rao and L.J. Sant Cassia in the British Medical Journal. "But doctors who ask patients under their care to take part in a clinical trial are under no obligation to reveal how much they might earn as a result of their patients agreeing to take part in the trial. Can this be right?"

Doctors profit handsomely when they put their patients on experimental drugs. Pharmaceutical companies pay up to $30,000 per patient. Some doctors actually run ads offering their patients "for sale" to drug companies. The doctors who recruit the most patients into drug studies can make as much as a million dollars per year. But this has led to abuses, where doctors put patients on drugs outside of their area of expertise. Some asthma specialists, for example, have given patients experimental psychiatric drugs. Patients have been given drugs they did not need - sometimes with the potential for serious side effects - just so the doctor/recruiter can earn a buck.

Only one percent of research institutions have a policy addressing whether doctors have to disclose to patients that they are getting paid to put them in a research project. Even at institutions where ethics committees exist to review research, nobody is protecting patients against doctors' financial incentives to put their patients into unnecessary research. One doctor expressed his frustration to The New York Times that the ethics committee at his hospital refused to pay $500 to each patient for participation in research, saying that the amount was coercive, yet allowed doctors to be paid $5000 for each patient recruited into the research study.

Related Articles:

Kurt Eichenwald and Gina Kolata, "Drug Trials Hide Conflicts for Doctors," N.Y. Times May 16, 1999, at 1.

S.Y.H. Kim, R. W. Millard, P. Nisbet, C. Cox and E.D. Caine, "Potential Research Participants' Views Regarding Researcher and Institutional Conflicts of Interest," 30 J. Med. Ethics 73-79 (2004).

Jammi Rao and L.J. Sant Cassia, "Ethics of Undisclosed Payments to Doctors Recruiting Patients into Clinical Trials," 325 British Medical Journal 36-37 (2002)

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