Lisa Bero, a former Co-Chair of the Cochrane Governing Board, says public will increasingly demand less wining and dining, more independence from health professionals
Global authority on research integrity and industry bias in science Professor Lisa Bero has called for greater recognition of industry influence in science, following last week’s revelations that Australian nurses, dietitians, and pharmacists are receiving millions of dollars in payments from pharmaceutical companies.
‘All around the world this is a problem because physicians and other health professionals to some extent have this expectation that they are wined and dined and it's part of becoming a health professional,’ she told Australian podcast The Recommended Dose with Ray Moynihan.
‘There really needs to be a way to change the culture and I think this is going to come from consumers and people who understand that this is not acceptable.’
‘So the next step after disclosure will really be to minimize dependence on these industry payments. I think that's hard for some groups that may be totally dependent on industry so one way is to find alternative sources of funding, but a second issue that needs to be addressed is whether this funding is actually needed. So, for example, is all that money that is going to buy fancy lunches or a cruise on the harbour - is that really necessary? Or if it's being spent on glossy brochures that only promote one product - is that really necessary?’
In a wide-ranging interview, Professor Bero highlights the tangible ways conflicts of interest can influence the decision-making of individual doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, as well as the bigger picture agenda and outcomes in health, climate change, and nutrition research.
In a striking example, Professor Bero tells The Recommended Dose how her own nutrition research into how private companies influence public health outcomes in areas such as obesity was found to be being secretly ‘monitored’ by Coca-Cola, as uncovered by The Sydney Morning Herald late last year.
‘I wasn't at all surprised that Coca-Cola, once they realized my research agenda included nutrition, would be monitoring my work as well,’ she says. ‘I'm not worried about it because I've been working in this area for over 20 years and have put up with a lot of scrutiny and unpleasant comments from industry and it hasn't really changed what I do.’
‘But I can definitely see how for junior investigators this could have a chilling effect on their work, and that did concern me. So one of the things I do is to really encourage them…to look on the bright side. What it really does is make your research stronger because you know that people will be looking at it very carefully.’ Which clearly they are.
Professor Bero also shares her thoughts on leaving California to become a fully-fledged, ocean-swimming Sydneysider, who finds daily inspiration in the story of Charles Perkins – the first Aboriginal graduate of The University of Sydney. She also reflects on her role as Co-Chair of Cochrane and highlights the importance of health evidence that’s free from conflicts of interest or commercial influence of any kind.
- Watch Lisa Bero on ABC News last week: Big Pharma paying nurses and allied health professionals millions
- Big pharma funding biases drug trials in favour of a sponsor’s product: review, The Sydney Morning Herald
- Drug companies pay doctors, nurses $9.5 million in six months for advice, event attendance, The Canberra Times
- How food companies can sneak bias into scientific research - Lisa Bero in The Conversation
- Sydney University study claims industry funding leads to bias in artificial sweetener research, The Sydney Morning Herald
- Big food and big nutrition lies, The Sydney Morning Herald
- Lisa Bero takes up residence, Cochrane Australia News
Other relevant research:
- The latest Cochrane Review on Industry sponsorship and research outcome was published in February this year and includes 27 new studies and provides definitive evidence that pharmaceutical industry funding of drug studies biases results and conclusions to look favourable towards the drug of the sponsor.
- Lisa and Ray, who are occasional collaborators, are both co-authors on this recent study of more than 100 000 industry-funded winning and dining events for health professionals
About Cochrane & Cochrane Australia:
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Cochrane Australia is an active part of this collaborative network, with over 3,000 local researchers, clinicians and patient advocates who synthesize and analyze the latest health research. Our contributors can be found in all corners of the continent, from Darwin to Hobart, from Perth to Brisbane, and most places in between. The Cochrane Australia centre is located in Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in Melbourne.
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About Ray Moynihan
Ray is a man with many hats... Currently a Senior Research Fellow at Bond University’s Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice, and an NHMRC Early Career Fellow, he is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and author. Ray spent plenty of time as a producer at the ABC’s flagship investigative TV program Four Corners, as a reporter at the ABC TV’s 7:30 Report and as a presenter on Radio National. He’s written four books on the business of medicine, including Selling Sickness, which has been translated into 12 languages.
He is also a former Harkness fellow at Harvard University, has been a columnist with the BMJ and the Medical Journal of Australia, and has also had original research published in The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, PLOS Medicine and the BMJ - to name a few. Regularly interviewed by media globally, and invited to speak around the world, Ray has a long-time interest in the evidence-informed approach and the work of Cochrane.