Background: Physicians' financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry are controversial because such relationships may pose a conflict of interest. It is unknown to what extent industry support of medical education and research influences the opinions and behavior of clinicians and researchers. The recent debate over the safety of calcium-channel antagonists provided an opportunity to examine the effect of financial conflicts of interest.
Methods: We searched the English-language medical literature published from March 1995 through September 1996 for articles examining the controversy about the safety of calcium-channel antagonists. Articles were reviewed and classified as being supportive, neutral, or critical with respect to the use of calcium-channel antagonists. The authors of the articles were asked about their financial relationships with both manufacturers of calcium-channel antagonists and manufacturers of competing products (i.e., beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors, diuretics, and nitrates). We examined the authors' published positions on the safety of calcium-channel antagonists according to their financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies.
Results: Authors who supported the use of calcium-channel antagonists were significantly more likely than neutral or critical authors to have financial relationships with manufacturers of calcium-channel antagonists (96 percent, vs. 60 percent and 37 percent, respectively; P<0.001). Supportive authors were also more likely than neutral or critical authors to have financial relationships with any pharmaceutical manufacturer, irrespective of the product (100 percent, vs. 67 percent and 43 percent, respectively; P< 0.001).
Conclusions: Our results demonstrate a strong association between authors' published positions on the safety of calcium-channel antagonists and their financial relationships with pharmaceutical manufacturers. The medical profession needs to develop a more effective policy on conflict of interest. We support complete disclosure of relationships with pharmaceutical manufacturers for clinicians and researchers who write articles examining pharmaceutical products.