The ongoing danger of medical ‘research’ being funded by drug and device companies

by Eric Pearson

One part of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act signed into law in March 2010 is the Physician Payment Sunshine Act. The Sunshine Act requires pharmaceutical, medical device, biological, and medical supply manufacturers to report to the federal department of Health and Human Services any “payment or other transfer of value” to physicians and teaching hospitals. The Sunshine Act is intended to help reduce potential conflicts of interest for physicians or teaching hospitals that may have financial relationships with these for-profit companies.

We have previously reported on the growing concern that drug and medical device companies may be simply buying research results that are favorable to their products. Dr. Marcia Angell (Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of New England Journal of Medicine) has written that: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines.”

As the new Physician Payment Sunshine Act rules begin to be applied, one wonders whether these new rules can stop the problem. The Wall Street Journal has recently run a piece by Dr. Robert Pearl, executive director and CEO of the Permanente Medical Group, Kaiser Permanente that explores how the new Sunshine Act will impact the practice of drug and device companies paying doctors.* According to Dr. Pearl, “the reality is that this practice will continue—and patients will continue to be at risk for potential harm—until physicians themselves stop participating in these relationships.”

According to comments made by Dr. Pearl in the Wall Street Journal:

For years, pharmaceutical and medical-device companies have engaged in a marketing and promotion strategy in which they develop “consultative” relationships with a large number of doctors, recruiting them to work on behalf of the companies by paying them to use their products—and more important, to promote the products to colleagues. For other doctors who are high users of their products, these companies invite them to attend extravagant dinners and participate as “faculty” at conferences being held at resort destinations, with all expenses paid by the pharmaceutical or medical-device manufacturer.

These relationships are formed under the guise of advancing education and innovation. But they are really part of a thinly veiled promotional strategy designed to increase sales, particularly for expensive products with high profit margins. That’s a problem.

Physicians want to believe that their clinical judgment cannot be influenced by these types of partnerships, but medical literature is full of examples of the pernicious impact that gifts and financial arrangements have on treatment decisions, ranging from excess prescribing of more expensive medications to increased use of specific medical devices.

As an exampled Dr. Pearl discussed “the unfolding story of Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ +0.98% ASR XL metal-on-metal replacement hip.” Thousands of lawsuits have been filed claiming the hip replacement has an unacceptably high failure rate. The lawsuits allege that consultants paid by the company were reluctant to report the failures publicly, resulting in unnecessary pain and suffering for many patients who continued to receive the metal-on-metal implant long after the orthopedic community should have been warned of the risks.

Fighting for Patient Safety

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have made it a career priority to hold drug manufacturers accountable and responsible for their actions. As a result, we have spent years holding drug companies and medical device manufacturers responsible for the injuries and deaths caused by their reckless conduct. We have represented hundreds of people regarding dangerous fentanyl pain patches, defective hip and knee implant devices, Yaz, Actos, Avandia and Accutane—to name just some examples.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson is AV-rated, the highest legal and ethical rating available from the leading law firm rating service. Our partners Michael Heygood, Jim Orr, and Eric Pearson are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Heygood and Mr. Orr are additionally Board Certified in Civil Trial Advocacy Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Our partners been voted by their peers as “Super Lawyers” in the state of Texas for several years in a row.*

At Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we believe that when a drug company sells a drug or medical device that is dangerous and unsafe, they should be held responsible for the damage. In addition, we have the resources and experience to protect a person’s rights and the rights of their loved ones against irresponsible pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers.

If you have been injured or have lost someone you care about because of defective or dangerous prescription drugs or medical devices, you deserve to have the manufacturer held responsible and to receive proper compensation. Contact us for a free consultation by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001 or by filling out the free consultation form on this page to find out more about your legal options.


Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2013.

by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.