GlaxoSmithKline became the third pharmaceutical giant to start disclosing all the speaking and consulting payments it makes to US doctors, and its list is an eye-popping illustration of the rampant corruption that runs through our current system of medical research. While the majority of the doctors on Glaxo’s payroll, which covers a mere three months in the second quarter of 2009, received between $1,000 and $6,000 for speaking gigs, 134 doctors netted payments of $15,000 or more, and a goodly number received very handsome payouts indeed. (In all, GSK paid out a princely sum of $14.6 million to 3,700 doctors in just three months; one can only wonder how much they dispensed for the entire year).

The highest-paid doctor on this list is Dr. Lawrence DuBuske, a clinical instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Immunology Research Institute of New England. DuBuske specializes in allergies and works with medical researchers throughout Eastern Europe on clinical studies of new allergy drugs. He received a whopping $99,375 from GSK in the second quarter of 2009.

For what, you might ask? That’s a question better put to DuBuske, but I can tell you that a quick scrutiny of journal articles published this past year reveals that he was the lead author of a review article published in March 2009 in a respected medical journal (Current Allergy and Asthma Reports), which extolled the effectiveness of several drugs for the treatment of allergic rhinitis (the running nose and other bothersome symptoms that occur when you breathe in something you’re allergic to).

Surprise, surprise, one of the drugs given an enthusiastic thumb’s up in this review is Xyzal, an antihistamine made by GlaxoSmithKline. The other two are drugs made by Schering-Plough (now owned by Merck) and Sanofi-Aventis. And sure enough, DuBuske is not only on Glaxo’s speaker bureau; he is also getting speaking bucks from Schering-Plough, Merck and Sanofi-Aventis. Indeed, as the disclosures in his March review indicate, DuBuske is basically on the speaking payroll of every pharmaceutical company that makes or markets allergy drugs in this country.

Gee, I wonder what Harvard Medical School or Brigham & Women’s Hospital, where DuBuske is coordinator of the allergy fellowship program and a consultant, have to say about the good doctor’s conflicts of interest.

Here’s another example of the way Big Pharma has corrupted the way doctors get their information about new drugs: Another well-paid physician on GSK’s stocking list this year was Dr. Timothy Beard, a general surgeon and director of research for Bend Memorial Clinic in Bend, Oregon. Beard received $61,380 from GSK in the second quarter of 2009 (and he’s not even one of the five highest paid). As a quick Google search reveals, Dr. Beard has done clinical research on a drug called ENTEREG, made by GlaxoSmithKline, and in August 2009, he gave a presentation to the annual meeting of the Northwest Society of Colon and Rectal surgeons about how well ENTEREG works in aiding the recovery of patients who have had bowel resection surgery. Not a bad day’s work for $61,380.

Now, as an unpaid blogger, I only had time to connect a few dots, but I have a feeling there is much more to be gleaned from the treasure trove of doctor payments that Glaxo and other drug companies are now disclosing (in anticipation that Congress, as part of health reform, will pass the Physician Payment Sunshine Act and require such disclosures in the future). So I hope that some of the journalists who get paid to do this will take a closer look at more of the happy beneficiaries of the pharmaceutical industry’s largesse.

In the meantime, take a minute and check to see if your doctor is on Glaxo’s Christmas list. Ho ho ho.

Hat tip to Pharmalot for alerting me to the GSK list.

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