Society reconsiders, will host debate on conflicts of interest

Some drug industry critics are rethinking their participation in an upcoming debate on conflicts of interest after industry advocates were added to the panel, The Boston Globe reports. The American Society of Hypertension (ASH) had nixed the talk, which originally included only critics of the drug industry, after some accused it of stifling debate. The society then decided to reschedule it as a debate, adding two industry advocates to the mix—Dr. Thomas Stossel of Harvard Medical School, and William Keane, VP, clinical development, Merck. The debate is scheduled for ASH’s annual meeting in Chicago in May. Former New England Journal of Medicine editor Dr. Marcia Angell, an original panel member, told the Globe that the addition of Stossel and Keane has prompted her to question ASH’s motives. "It seems to be standing the whole thing on its head," she said. Angell said the panel originally had been intended to “provide a counterweight to the drug industry's sponsorship of scientific papers and physicians at the annual meeting,” notes the newspaper report. Among other original participants, two drug industry critics also have also been invited again—Dr. Jerome Kassirer, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Dr. Jerry Avorn, a Harvard Medical School professor and physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Kassirer can’t attend due to a schedule conflict, while Avorn said he is considering the second invitation. Merck would not confirm whether Keane had accepted the invitation, while Stossel said he accepted and will use the discussion to argue for continued drug company collaboration and direct financial support of medical societies and doctors. ASH said it’s committed to including the talk and will work to confirm speakers over the next few weeks.