We spend an awful lot of time on this site detailing (pun intended) how drugmakers provide various forms of funding to doctors, particularly continuing medical education. The issue is controversial, as you may know, because it speaks to influencing what is supposed to be independent medical judgment.
So we are surprised to see that Unity, a minority journalism group, allowed Novo Nordisk to sponsor and organize a seminar at its latest convention in Chicago. The drugmaker hosted a lunch yesterday called "The Diabetes Explosion: A Call to Action for Journalists of Color." And Novo Nordisk makes and markets diabetes products.
What's wrong with that? Journalists should do their best to remain free of influence. We do not wish to moralize, but Unity should have known better. If its members want to learn about diabetes, the organization should find another way of holding a 'Lunch n Learn' seminar that is not organized and run by a company with a vested interest in the subject.
The panelists included docs from Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health, and some journalists, the WSJ Health blog writes. The promotional material promised attendees would hear from “distinguished experts in diabetes” about the disproportionate effect of type 2 diabetes on people of color and “how journalism can be used to help combat this disease,” according to the blog.
A Novo Nordisk spokeswoman tells the blog that 274 journalists showed up, and that the drugmaker selected the speakers and “set the agenda” for what the panelists should talk about, but that the panelists came up with their own presentations. There was no discussion of brand-name drugs, she insists, or any effort to promote Novo Nordisk products, she continues, adding that the lunch was the first time Novo Nordisk sponsored such an event for journalists. May it be the last.
We have reached out to a spokeswoman for Unity and will update you with any reply. As the WSJ blog points out, the Association of Health Care Journalists, a group to which we have belonged for several years, does not accept funds from manufacturers of health-care products, including drugs and medical devices.
Novo isn’t the only drugmaker making a financial contribution to Unity. Eli Lilly is a bronze sponsor of the event.