From the Journals

About half of NCI cancer center directors received industry payments in 2017



Slightly less than half of directors at National Cancer Institute–designated cancer centers received payments from industry in 2017, according to recent analysis of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Open Payments database.

That number is lower than in 2014, but approximately one-fourth of National Cancer Institute (NCI) directors received payments of $5,000 or more that were not related to research, David Carr, MD, of the University of California in San Diego, and H. Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH, of Thetford, Vt., reported in a research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Although cancer care is shaped by public funding through centers under NCI, “[c]ancer care is also shaped by industry, because developing new cancer therapeutics represents a major market opportunity,” Dr. Carr and Dr. Welch said. “Industry payments to academic physicians risk blurring the line between innovation and the evaluation of new therapies.”

In their research letter, Dr. Carr and Dr. Welch examined research- and non–research-based payments made to 53 physician cancer center directors between 2015 and 2017. In 2016, 44 of 53 directors held their current positions, while 41 of 53 directors held their position in 2015.

Analysis from 2017 showed $4.42 million in total industry payments were distributed to the directors, consisting of $1.89 million in research-based payments and $2.53 million in nonresearch payments across 22 directors. There were 27 directors (51%) who did not receive any payments from industry.

The authors found 19 directors (36%) received payments of $5,000 or more, while 12 of 53 directors (23%) received nonresearch payments of $5,000 or more. The largest payment received in 2017 for research was $863,000. Two directors received industry payments at $50,000 or higher that significantly exceeded payments other directors received, and one director received $2.27 million for “compensation for services other than consulting, including serving as faculty or a speaker at a venue other than a continuing education program.”

The NCI currently defines any remuneration above $5,000 to be of “significant financial interest.”

“Our findings raise the question of whether industry payments to the directors of publicly supported institutions, such as NCI-designated cancer centers, serve the public interest,” Dr. Carr and Dr. Welch noted. “Policy makers—and the public—should consider whether such payments should be allowed, limited (e.g., to less than $5,000 a year), or eliminated.”

The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Carr D, et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Aug 5. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.3098.

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