Many Leading Oncologists Have Pharmaceutical Ties Interview with:

Dr. Aaron Mitchell MD Hematology/Oncology Fellow University North Carolina

Dr. Aaron Mitchell

Dr. Aaron Mitchell MD
Hematology/Oncology Fellow
University North Carolina What is the background for this study?

Response: It is well known that many physicians work with the pharmaceutical industry. In some cases, this can create conflicts of interest with physicians’ other responsibilities. The Open Payments law, passed as part of the Affordable Care Act, recently made these relationships public, which now allows us to study them more systematically. What are the main findings?

Response: Our main finding was that a high percentage – over 80% – of influential oncologists writing national guidelines were receiving money from the pharmaceutical industry. This alone is not a problem, as many physicians work productively with industry. However, it is also possible that this money biases physicians in favor of pharmaceutical companies, which might be problematic. Therefore, it is important that we do more research to find out if getting money from the pharmaceutical industry does, in fact, change the way doctors write guidelines and treat their patients. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: A high proportion of leading oncologists get significant amounts of money from the pharmaceutical industry. Therefore, it is important that we do more research to determine whether receiving such money produces bias. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: It is important to note that this study is not intended as a criticism of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network specifically. As we discuss in the paper, the NCCN has proactively taken measures to try to limit conflicts of interest among its guideline authors. This study is really about the overall state of health care, in which many leading physicians have close ties to industry. We wanted to study a group of leading, influential oncologists, and the NCCN is simply an easy place to find them.

In the study, we use the term “conflict of interest.” What this really means is just that a doctor received money from the pharmaceutical industry, not that he or she did anything unethical in return. Whether getting this money actually influences doctors is a key area of ongoing research. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Mitchell AP, Basch EM, Dusetzina SB. Financial Relationships With Industry Among National Comprehensive Cancer Network Guideline Authors. JAMA Oncol.Published online August 25, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.2710.

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Last Updated on August 25, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD