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Pharma transparency needed

Pharma transparency needed

Health researchers are calling for greater disclosure of payments from drug companies to doctors in New Zealand

Last September the US Government published the Open Paymentsdatabase, which disclosed US3.5 billion in payments from pharmaceutical makers to US health professionals in the last five months of 2013 alone.

The payments cover everything from conference appearance fees to research grants and have been disclosed as a result of thePhysician Payments Sunshine Act introduced in 2010 following growing concerns over conflicts of interest in the health sector.

Writing in the New Zealand Medical Journal, a group of clinicians and researchers including University of Auckland's Professor Cindy Farquhar, argue that a similar regime is needed in New Zealand to reveal payments financial transactions and move beyond the self-regulation of the industry.

"To date the focus has been on professional self-regulation but evidence from clinical guidelines suggests that it is insufficient to wholly rely on clinician self-disclosure with an expectation that clinicians will always act in accordance with their regulatory body’s code of practice."

SMC Manager Peter Griffin, a co-author on the paper, said investigations by the US media outlet Propublica had uncovered major undisclosed conflicts of interest in physician payments through its Dollars for Docs project.

"Those disclosures were the result of lawsuits that preceded the Sunshine Act, but since then the drug companies have been cleaning up their act, reducing payments to doctors. We don't know the scale of the issue in New Zealand because there's no official disclosure regime."

Index ranks NZ science

New Zealand is a leader in earth and environmental sciences in the Asia Pacific region, according to an analysis of high level research publications.

The Nature Index analyses countries’ and institutions’ contributions to research published in 68 top tier journals. The Index‘s overview of the last year’s data for the Asia Pacific region has just been published and singles out New Zealand as “a leader in earth and environmental sciences”.

According to the supplement, New Zealand focuses more of its research on earth and environmental science than any other country in the region,with over 30 per cent of our NatureIndex contributions falling into this category.

Countries and institutions in the index are assessed on how many articles they published in top journals, and also in a more detailed measure, the Weighted Fractional Count (WFC), which takes into account individual authors’ contributions to articles and the over-representation of some fields of science.

You can see New Zealand’s top institutions, ranked by these measures, in the graphic below (Click to enlarge. WFC: Weighted Fractional Count; AC: Article Count; definitions here.)

While some institutions did better than others, New Zealand as a whole ranked eighth out of the top ten Asia Pacific countriescovered in the Index.

"The Nature Index provides a window into what New Zealand's scientists are working on, how much new knowledge they are creating, and who they are working with," says Prof Shaun Hendy, Director of Te Pūnaha Matatini.

"To understand New Zealand's position in this year's report you just need to follow the money. We produce fewer scientific papers per capita than the rest of the region because we invest less on science."

You can read more about the Index results, including further institution rankings and expert commentary, on the Science Media Centre website.

Herbicide red flag

Exposure to common weedkillers can spur resistance to antibiotic drugs in harmful bacteria, finds New Zealand research.

The new study, led by the University of Canterbury's Prof Jack Heinemann, investigated how bacteria responded to antibiotics alone and in combination with commercial formulations of herbicides including RoundUp and 2,4-D.

“We found that exposure to some very common herbicides can cause bacteria to change their response to antibiotics. They often become antibiotic resistant, but we also saw increased susceptibility or no effect. In most cases, we saw increased resistance even to important clinical antibiotics,” Professor Heinemann said in a media release.

Seeking to the ensure the results were not an accident, Prof Heinemann enlisted a researcher at Massey University to replicate their experiments. They got the same results.

The authors of the new study, published in in mBio, note that while much attention has been paid to the use antibiotics in agriculture as a driver of antibiotic resistance there has be little investigation into the role herbicides may play.

"To address the crisis of antibiotic resistance requires broadening our view of environmental contributors to the evolution of resistance," they concluded in their article.

Experts contacted by the SMC agreed that the issue needs further examination.

"In an era where we are concerned by the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria and antibiotic use in agriculture is forecasted to rise, looking at the combined effects of herbicides and antibiotics on the microbial world is both timely and necessary," said Massey University's Dr Heather Hendrickson, who was not directly involved in the study.

Assoc Prof Mark Thomas from the University of Auckland, commented, "The findings raise concern about the potential for herbicide use to worsen the spread of antibiotic resistance in the environment, and hasten the decline in the effectiveness of these precious medicines."

You can read more about the study and further expert commentary on our new science news portal,

Quoted: Dominion Post

"‘For many, however, private funding will distort what would be regarded as sensible conservation priorities. The debate about what is important, and what is not, will continue. And it should.’’

Dr Wayne Linklater, Victoria University Wellington, commenting on new research into private sponsorship of bird conservation.

Policy news & developments

Oceans report: The McGuinness Institute this week released the extensive report One Ocean: Principles for the stewardship of a healthy and productive ocean.

Food consultation: The government is consulting on the Food Safety Law Reform Bill, which will address the recommendations from the Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) Contamination Inquiry.

Renewable energy: The latest edition of the NZ Energy Quarterly shows that renewable electricity generation contributed almost 80% of New Zealand’s electricity in 2014.

E-Referrals: Southern DHB has now completed the South Island’s rollout of eReferrals, enabling faster more accurate transfer of patient information.

Hazardous imports: The EPA is inviting people to have a say on new rules that would require everyone who makes or imports a hazardous substance to supply basic contact information.

New from Sciblogs

Some of the highlights from this week's Sciblogs posts:

Beliefs about normal sleep - Karyn O'Keeffe looks at new research investigating how people sleep - or at least how theythink they sleep.
Sleep on It

How high is a winning cricket score? - The state of play in the Cricket World Cup has not escaped the attention of physicist Marcus Wilson.
Physics Stop

Visualising Auckland rail trips - economist and data guru Aaron Schiff looks at 12 months of Aucklanders' HOP card usage to show how they travel around the city.
The Dismal Science

From the mouth of Food Babe - how good advice can be muddled with less than scientific information.
Molecular Matters


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