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July 24, 2009

ACRE: Association of Clincal Researchers and Educators Charter Meeting Highlighted in Boston Globe

Although the newly formed Association of Clinical Researchers and Educators (ACRE) had never actually met as an organization until yesterday, the groups is starting to gain a lot of attention. Recently, the Boston Globe published an article regarding the groups first meeting held yesterday at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, MA.

The focus of the introductory meeting, which had about 25 speakers and 200 attendees, surrounded the “growing number of hospitals, universities, and states that are barring drug companies from buying physicians dinner, hiring them as speakers, and giving them even token gifts.” Perhaps the importance of this group an event was highlighted by the attendance of Dr. Jeffrey Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School, who we previously wrote about concerning his concerns about disclosure and conflicts.

Even though Dr. Flier is unaffiliated with the organization, David Cameron, spokesman for the medical school, which is revising its conflict-of-interest policy, noted that the Dean wants a “vigorous debate and analysis on the issue of academic collaborations with industry and encourage individuals with varied perspectives to participate in the discussion.’’

In response to these current trends, organizations such as ACRE, which includes doctors, researchers and industry, are fighting policies that attempt to limit interactions between doctors and drug company representatives. Groups such as ACRE, and many physicians, consumers and representatives feel strongly that restrictive rules ultimately will hurt the patients they’re designed to protect.

According to the Globe, the first conference for ACRE was to promote “productive collaboration’ between industry and physicians, which they say leads to better medicines and treatments.” is one of 25 speakers and will give the welcoming remarks to about 200 attendees. Some of the groups notable members include:

Dr. Thomas Stossel, an oncologist at the Brigham; Dr. Jeffrey Garber, chief of endocrinology at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates; and Dr. Paul Richardson, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who are among the founders of the group.

Dr. Stossel asserted that one of the main priorities for ACRE is “to convey that there is a silent majority out there, and to restore some balance to the debate.’’

According to ACRE’s website, “reversing restrictive new conflict-of-interest policies and establishing chapters at universities and within medical specialty societies” are some of the organizations long-term goals. Interestingly, such a goal is necessary considering Massachusetts public health officials plan to review the state’s new conflict-of-interest regulations in two-years.

Some of the current restrictions that went into effect July 1 include a ban on gifts to doctors from drug and medical device companies, and public disclosure of payments to doctors for consulting from drug and device companies. As a result, Stossel said his group “wants to create an outcry against’’ these and other similar laws.

Another area where ACRE sees potential for reform is within Brigham and Massachusetts General Hospital. In April, Partners HealthCare passed its own restrictions, which go further than the state law, banning all industry-paid gifts and meals and also forbidding doctors from traveling the country as paid members of company “speakers bureaus.’’ ACRE believes these types of restrictions will only harm patients.

Interestingly, although this organization is barely in its infancy, the association’s goals, are being widely discussed on healthcare blogs in the past several weeks, and they are even scheduled to speak next week at a Senate Aging Committee hearing on Continuing Medical Education (CME), chaired by Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI).

Critics, patient advocacy groups and lawmakers who want more restrictive policies believe that ACRE and Stossel are misguided because of the ‘alleged’ conflicts of interested between industry, researchers and physicians. This ridiculous claim easily forgets the importance of the industry-physician relationship, and how restrictions and new rules will only “stifle invention and ultimately hurt patients” Furthermore, the impact of small gifts and meals on doctors is negligible compared with the benefit of collaboration, and the breakthroughs industry and physicians will form from their partnerships.

Ultimately, Stossel and other doctors have said it plain and simple: for the past 40 years, medicine is “incomparably better than before …and no one can challenge the fact that it’s because of the tools we’ve gotten from industry.’’ We should applaud the formation and beginning of ACRE because it will only help Americans and health care providers offer more effective treatments, which will reduce the potential for increased costs because of the funding physicians receive from industry.


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