Last week, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told the advocacy group Public Citizen that the FDA may loosen conflict-of-interest rules for experts who serve on the agency’s advisory panels. These panels wield considerable power when it comes to FDA decisions about approving drugs and medical devices, and for pulling them off the market when evidence surfaces that they may cause patients harm.
Why loosen the rules? Commissioner Hamburg said the agency is having trouble finding experts to fill its advisory panel slots. In other words, anybody expert enough to be on an FDA panel undoubtedly has a conflict.
Or maybe the FDA just isn’t looking very hard. In 2008, Jeanne Lenzer -- an independent journalist -- and I created a list of more than 100 experts in fields ranging from epidemiology to neurology to emergency medicine, every one of them independent from industry conflicts of interest. We made the list available to our fellow journalists at the website, Healthnewsreview.org, a site that grades health stories. Dozens of journalists from top news outlets, including the New York Times, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal, have requested the list, and used it to find sources for their stories -- or at least we hope they have.