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Report: Journal Violates Own Policy

October 21, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The New England Journal of Medicine apparently violated its own strict disclosure policy by publishing articles from researchers whose ties to drug companies were not disclosed, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

In eight of 36 ``Drug Therapy″ articles reviewed by the Times that were printed in the Journal since 1997, researchers had financial links to companies that marketed treatments reviewed in the article. That potential conflict of interest was not revealed to the reader.

The Journal has not yet reviewed the articles identified by the newspaper but is developing new ethical guidelines, interim editor in chief Dr. Marcia Angell told the Times.

``We’re going to try to do the right thing and bring our practice into conformity with our policy,″ she said. ``There was a misinterpretation of exactly what our policy was.″

The policy at the 187-year-old weekly journal is among the strictest of all medical publications, prohibiting ``editorialists and authors of review articles from having any financial connection with a company that benefits from a drug or device discussed in the editorial or review article.″

Among the articles examined by the newspaper, the authors who reviewed drug treatments received speaking fees, consulting fees, travel expenses and other funding from the makers of the same drugs they were reviewing. The articles were not accompanied by any disclosures about the ties.

Six of the authors said they disclosed to the Journal their financial ties. Two other articles were by European authors who did not respond to e-mail messages from the Times seeking comment.

The newspaper’s analysis did not evaluate whether the authors showed a bias toward the companies’ products, but experts said leaving out the financial links raised serious questions.

``It’s highly misleading of journal editors to say on the one hand that they have a strict policy to avoid conflict of interest and then turn around and violate that policy,″ said Mildred Cho, a scholar at the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics.

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