HAOs dodge disclosure of pharma donor ties

February 3, 2011

Health advocacy organizations that promote research and access to healthcare services for members routinely fail to disclose their financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, according to a study released online in the American Journal of Public Health.

Health advocacy organizations (HAOs) that promote research and access to healthcare services for members routinely fail to disclose their financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, according to a study released online in the American Journal of Public Health.

The study examined more than 160 HAOs that received funding from Eli Lilly during the first half of 2007. Lilly, which was the first company to make its grant registry public, gave $3.2 million in grants to 161 HAOs during that time frame. The grants targeted advocacy groups working within areas of Lilly’s therapeutic interest and best-selling products, including neuroscience, endocrinology, and oncology, according to the study.

Most troubling to the study’s authors was the fact that HAOs were less transparent than their donor. Only 25% of the organizations that received funding from Lilly acknowledged the company’s contributions on their websites; only 10% acknowledged Lilly as the sponsor of the grant event; and none disclosed the exact amount of the grant. As a result, neither policymakers nor the public could readily know about the financial relationship between the HAOs and Lilly, the study said.

Although the time period studied is now almost 4 years old, researchers believe the results would be much the same for 2010, since HAOs remain unwilling to report money they receive from pharmaceutical companies.

“HAOs are among the most influential and trusted stakeholders in health policy,” said Sheila M. Rothman, PhD, a study co-author and professor of sociomedical sciences in the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. “Since they represent themselves as promoting the public interest, HAOs should disclose to their members, legislators, and the public where their money is coming from and what they are getting the money for.”