It was a pleasure to see Arnold Relman and Marcia Angell receive such well-deserved visibility in yesterday’s New York Times for their campaigns against the “commercial exploitation of medicine.” Drs. Relman and Angell are both former editors of The New England Journal of Medicine, together and separately, from 1977 to 2000. They are also husband and wife since 2009. He’s 88 and retired, and she’s 72 and still teaches at Harvard Medical School.
Relman and Angell built the NEJM into a formidable editorial platform during their tenures as editors. Much of this came from the quality of the research that they published. But it also derived from their willingness to challenge Big Pharma’s insidious attempt to corrupt the independence of doctors, medical journals, medical education and patients. Here were two highly esteemed physician-editors using the sheer credibility of research and their journal’s reputation to face down the multi-billion pharmaceutical industry, which has unleashed a veritable hydra of wily, unethical schemes to boost profits.
Among them: undisclosed industry payments to researchers to produce studies that make a new drug look good; undisclosed industry payments to leading physicians to teach courses that have the effect of promoting certain drugs and medical devices; undisclosed industry junkets and gifts to physicians to try to encourage more prescriptions of certain medications. And so on.