The Crikey Register of Influence – which details links between opinion leaders, organisations and industry marketing campaigns – has been updated.

The new entries are Professor Simon Stewart, Head, Preventive Cardiology at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, and his colleague, Dr Melinda Carrington, General Manager of the Baker’s Disease Management and Preventative Programs.

They appeared in an advertorial promoting cholesterol treatment sponsored by Astra Zeneca, and published this month in Medical Observer magazine. They were quoted discussing the findings of a study of patients taking cholesterol medication that was funded by Astra Zeneca, and designed and conducted by the Baker.

The advertorial is particularly noteworthy for a few reasons:

• The close links between the Baker and pharmaceutical industry marketing are already the subject of considerable controversy, with the Medicines Australia code of conduct committee recently upholding a complaint over another campaign featuring the Baker.

• Last year in this Crikey story, the head of the NHMRC, Professor Warwick Anderson called for an end to doctors and other health professionals participating in such advertorials. Anderson was, in a former life, Deputy Director of the Baker Medical Research Institute. It may simply be a coincidence, but there do seem to be far fewer experts popping up in pharma advertising in Australian Doctor and Medical Observer since Anderson’s statement.  So the Astra Zeneca one really does stand out and is likely to be attracting quite a bit of comment in quarters concerned about conflicts of interest arising from close relationships between individuals, institutions and industry.

Meanwhile, on related topics, a campaigning US Senator is leading a charge for medical schools in the US to disclose their  policies on conflicts of interest and requirements for disclosure of financial ties between staff members and drug firms.

The British Medical Journal recently reported that Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is the leading minority member on the Senate Committee on Finance, wrote to 23 medical schools that had not completed a survey by the American Medical Student Association.

The student association surveyed all 146 medical schools, of which 126 provided information about their policies. The association posted the results on its PharmFree Scorecard website and graded the schools’ policies from A to F (failing).

Senator Grassley asked the 23 schools to provide a copy of their conflict of interest policy, their communications with the NIH about conflicts of interest and research by their professors, the amount of grant funds from the NIH and other federal grants received by the institution from 2004 through 2008, and for the names of the principal investigators for each grant.

Senator Grassley’s letter, a press release, and a list of the 23 schools are here.

You have to pay for full access to the BMJ article but the abstract is freely available here.

Croakey welcomes feedback from those named on the Register, and will gladly publish their responses.

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