Journal editor linked to spinal implant royalties

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel continues his coverage of conflicts of interest in medical research and journals with a look at journal editors. First, Fauber lays out the case in question:

  • For seven years, a University of Wisconsin orthopedic surgeon (university bio | hospital bio) has been editor-in-chief of the Journal of Spinal Disorders & Techniques.
  • During that time, he’s received more than $20 million in patent royalties thanks to spinal implants sold by Medtronic.
  • Also during that time, an average of more than one Medtronic-related article appeared in each issue of the journal, most of them positive. Some were even co-authored by the editor/surgeon himself and related to the implant for which he gets royalties.
  • Despite these coincidences, the journal never disclosed the potential conflict of interest.

Fauber then goes on to explore why journal editors aren’t mentioned more often in conflict-of-interest scandals, and then to explain exactly why those editors hold the sort of power that makes these conflicts particularly distressing. As Fauber explains, editors of medical journals can accept or reject manuscripts of studies involving drugs or devices – something that can make or break the product.

They can send a study out to peer reviewers who may be sympathetic to a particular drug or device by virtue of their own financial relationships with the companies that make those products. They can give authors more leeway to say positive things about a drug. They can turn down studies that say bad things about the product of a company they get money from.

The author of “On The Take: How Medicine’s Complicity with Big Business Can Endanger Your Health,” Jerome Kassirer, says that “Once an editor makes a decision, there is no recourse; they are like a king.”

Earlier coverage:

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