In the debate over industry support of CME, it’s often been argued that drug and device manufacturers would never support programming that they had no control over. Pfizer’s $3 million, three-year grant to Stanford University School of Medicine suggests otherwise, though the grant will support education around areas of “mutual interest” and will be disbursed in milestone payments.

The university said in a statement that the grant, for a high-tech needs-based program aimed at improving patient outcomes, “comes with no conditions, and the company will not be involved in developing the curriculum.”

The Stanford release also quoted Pfizer chief medical officer Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall saying that the grant “demonstrates our willingness to help redefine how CME is funded so that practicing physicians can get access to the latest science, presented in ways that unquestionably put the interests of the patient first and foremost.”

Unsurprisingly, some industry critics weren’t convinced. Georgetown’s Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman pronounced the grant “self-satirizing,” noting that the proposed curriculum would focus on therapeutic areas in which Pfizer has key products and telling The New York Times that “Pfizer’s interest in better ways to manipulate physicians is well-known.”

A Pfizer spokesperson told MM&M that the grant “provides the opportunity for credible, publicly transparent collaboration around areas of mutual patient-centric interest where it is understood we are here to serve rather than be served.” Those areas of mutual interest include diabetes, cardiovascular, smoking cessation and infectious disease.

“This redefines the process for CME, as the Stanford faculty will choose the topics and design the curriculum independently,” said Pfizer director, worldwide communications Kristen Neese. The three-year grant will be re-evaluated on an annual basis, with milestone payments made accordingly, she said.

The grant will support a new curriculum that will “focus on interactive methods, rather than the traditional CME method of passive, lecture-based courses,” and “capitalizing on Stanford’s wide-ranging technologies in immersive and simulated learning,” the school said.

“We believe that the education of practicing physicians should be based solely on the best scientific evidence presented in a fair and balanced way,” said Robert Jackler, Stanford’s associate dean for CME. “Unfortunately, what’s happened is that the partnership with industry has led CME astray, to the point where the curricula are too often biased toward business interests. So we set out to see if industry would be willing to partner with us to create a high-quality curriculum, under the condition that Stanford faculty would choose the topics and design the curriculum independent of the relationship with industry. We sought not to prevent partnerships with industry, but rather to redefine it.”

Stanford stopped accepting industry grants for specific, designated CME programs in September 2008. Earlier that year, Pfizer shut off direct support for programs provided by medical education and communication companies to address concerns about industry bias of CME.