Multiple sclerosis (MS) is difficult enough for those who have it, causing damage to the nervous system, difficulty with movement, sensation, numbness, loss of vision and pain. People with MS rely on medications and the care of physicians to manage their symptoms and the progressions of the disease. But what happens when physicians entrusted to care for MS patients have conflicts of interest, due to connections with the pharmaceutical industry, such as possible perks provided by specific drug manufacturers? A new study focuses on how MS patients feel about physician conflicts of interest — and indicates that these types of relationships are in fact of concern to people with MS.
Researchers at University of Vermont, led by neurologist and MS specialist Andrew Solomon, M.D., conducted an anonymous survey to measure patient attitudes about this topic. Their interest was based on the fact that industry relationships often go undisclosed. The findings appear in an OnlineFirst article in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
Solomon stated “…direct industry financial support of physicians, physician practices, and academic departments involved in MS therapy-related multicenter ISCTs are an infrequently acknowledged source of potential physician conflict of interest, so we wanted to gauge patients’ perspective on the issue.”
The survey participants included 597 MS patients from the United States. A total of 552 completed the entire survey. Responses from people with MS who had participated and those who had not participated in medication clinical trials in the past were captured in the study.
Most of the respondents felt that disclosure of physician-pharmaceutical company relationships was important. “Compensation toward principal investigator salary” was considered to be the most important relationship among the types of physician-industry financial relationships available for selection in the survey.
“While our study demonstrates the importance of disclosure of information concerning physician conflicts of interest in MS [medication clinical trials] to potential participants, our findings — drawn from a single survey — are limited,” remarked Solomon. “More research on patient perspectives on this important issue, as well as how to most effectively incorporate this information into the consent process for research studies, is needed.”
Solomon noted that “avoidance or minimization of potential conflicts of interest is the goal.”
The study authors noted that despite possible conflicts of interest, “Physician-industry collaborations have advanced important scientific knowledge and helped develop new therapies that have significantly improved the lives of patients with MS.”
Important advances in the treatment of MS, which is currently inadequately treated and managed, need to move forward. Hopefully this can occur without excessive bias affecting the opinions of physicians conducting clinical trials. According to the results of this study, a majority of people with MS would prefer knowing when their attending physician has a working relationship with the pharmaceutical industry so that they can make the most informed decisions about their own health.