January 13, 2011 / 9:26 PM / 9 years ago

Health lobby groups mum on drug company grants

* Many grants from drug companies not disclosed - US study

* Researchers say disclosure should be required

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Health advocacy groups that push for more research and funding for specific diseases often fail to disclose the financial support they get from drug companies, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

Since the groups often lobby lawmakers for greater access to new and costly drugs, they should be required to make these contributions public, Sheila Rothman of Columbia University and colleagues reported in the American Journal of Public Health.

“We think there really should be more disclosure on the part of these organizations,” Rothman said in a telephone interview.

Beyond voluntary reporting, she said drug companies should be required to disclose grants to the advocacy groups as part of the Sunshine Act provision of the U.S. Affordable Care Act in the same way it requires disclosure about payments to individual doctors.

“I think it’s important for legislators, regulators and the public to know where they get their money,” Rothman said.

The study was based on a publicly available database of grants made by Eli Lilly and Co (LLY.N), the first U.S. drug company to make its grants data public.

Lilly gave $3.2 million in grants to 161 health advocacy groups during the first two quarters of 2007 — about 10 percent of its total grant giving.

The recipients of the grants ranged from national groups with thousands of members such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill to small organizations with a narrow focus.

The team searched each organization’s website for information about the grant. Few had made any mention of the drugmaker’s support.

Just 25 percent of the groups acknowledged Lilly’s contributions on their websites and only 10 percent said Lilly had sponsored an event. None of the groups said exactly how much money they got from the company.

The problem with that, Rothman said, is health advocacy groups often push for greater access and funding for new prescription drugs, an interest shared by companies that stand to make more money from selling new drugs.

“If you are advocating for public funds and if you are testifying and serving on federal advisory panels, I think it is appropriate to disclose where your organization gets its money,” Rothman said.

The researchers acknowledged they could have missed the disclosures or some of them may have been mailed to members but they said the information should be publicly available.

Some members of Congress have been pushing to limit the influence drugmakers have over the practice of medicine in the United States after investigations revealed that Harvard University psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Biederman and others failed to fully disclose payments from drug companies. (Editing by John O’Callaghan)

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