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Nothing to Worry About?

Conflicts of interest in pharma have been an area of concern for many people, both inside and outside of the industry, says Pharmalot's Ed Silverman. However, one expert says we may have gone too far, and that efforts to prevent conflicts could even hurt patients. Richard Epstein, NYU law professor and a visiting scholar at the Manhattan Institute, an economics think tank, says that responses to the perceived threat of conflicts of interest have been "wildly disproportionate" to the magnitude of the actual problem." For example, Epstein says, FDA disclosure rules have emptied "nearly one-third" of its advisory panel seats, and NIH's rule forbidding its researchers from communicating with their private-sector colleagues "stifles innovation."

But, Pharmalot's Silverman says that not everyone agrees. The University of Pennsylvania's bioethicist Art Caplan suggests that Epstein's notions have more to do with politics and a conservative, anti-regulatory stance, than with actual problems in conflicts of interest policies.