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Big Pharma’s Influence on U.S. Medical Schools is Significant

medical school students

An informal survey of medical schools conducted in 2005 by National Public Radio (NPR) showed that a number of universities and academic institutions are funded by pharmaceutical giants and other health industry sources. The survey, carried out through telephone calls and internet searches, found that two to six percent of the yearly budget of medical schools in the United States came from the pharmaceutical industry in 2003 and 2004.1

NPR sounded the alarm that, as U.S. government funding to medical schools decreased, the risk that medical schools could become dependent on private for-profit financial resources increased. The survey found that the University of Oklahoma Health Services Center, a school with approximately 585 students on two campuses, received 13.5 percent of its budget from the pharmaceutical industry in 2003. The school received $13.8 million in grants from pharmaceutical giants, while half of its budget was federally funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies. Therefore, 57 percent of the school’s budget in 2003 came from federal sources and the pharmaceutical industry.2

More Pharma Money Than Government Money Funds Medical Research and Schools

In 2005, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported that two-thirds of medical academic institutions have equity ties with outside sponsors and that 60 percent of biomedical research and development is privately funded.3

Increasingly, more research conducted by academia at universities is being funded by pharmaceutical companies. In 2011, pharmaceutical companies spent $39 million on research while the NIH only spent $31 billion. According to The Washington Post:

The billions that the drug companies invest in such experiments help fund the world’s quest for cures. But their aim is not just public health. That money is also part of a high-risk quest for profits, and over the past decade corporate interference has repeatedly muddled the nation’s drug science, sometimes with potentially lethal consequences.4

Dr. Joseph Waner, vice-president of research at the University of Oklahoma, admitted that while the pharmaceutical funding “makes available research protocols that wouldn’t be available otherwise,” faculty members feel pressure to keep their funders happy.5

Medical Schools Pressured by Drug Companies

Medical schools in the U.S. may face direct pressure from pharmaceutical companies should they question certain drugs. A Merck employee said that he personally called medical schools to complain that faculty members had expressed concern about the drug, Vioxx.6 After selling billions of dollars of the drug, Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market. An estimated 88,000 Americans suffered heart attacks from taking Vioxx.7

According to Lisa Bero, PhD, a researcher at the University of California:

They [faculty] don’t have security of employment. They’re in a more junior position, which is very vulnerable to influence from their department chair. It’s very tenuous. So, they could potentially lose their job, lose their employment. Or if they don’t, their life can be made quite miserable in terms of receiving adequate research space, not receiving administrative support or something like that.8

Pharma Funders Control Medical Research Findings

Major pharmaceutical companies influence all stages of research at academic institutions from choosing what projects to fund to how the results will be disseminated or whether it will be released to the public at all. The pharmaceutical companies focus their funding on research that could potentially promote their products and control what researchers may do with the results of their research by insisting on putting restrictive clauses in funding agreements.9 10

Often funding agreements place restrictions on researchers such as preventing the publishing of findings that could potentially harm the drug company and profits. A 2018 study determined that only one-third of academic institutions in America required that research consulting agreements be reviewed by the institution, while 35 percent of the institutions did not even think it was necessary to review the consulting agreement in the first place.11

In 2008, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) ranked medical schools on their conflict-of-interest policies with pharmaceutical companies that fund their research. Forty out of 150 schools received an “F” on their conflict-of-interest score card while less than 15 percent earned an A or a B. Harvard Medical School’s ties to pharmaceutical companies earned the prestigious university an “F”,12 with 1,600 of its 8,900 professors admitting that they or a family member had a profitable business connection to a drug company which could influence their research and teaching.13

Big Pharma Funding for Medical Schools Continues to Increase

Medical school reliance on big pharmaceutical funding has only increased in recent years. Some Universities have “integrated programs” or “science hubs” with pharmaceutical corporations to facilitate the development of new drugs for pharmaceutical profit.14 These programs include GlaxoSmithKline at Harvard University, AstraZeneca at the University of Washington and Pfizer at the University of California.15

In Conflicts of Interest, Institutional Corruption and Pharma: An Agenda for Reform, Professor of Law Marc A. Rodwin, JD, PhD explained that drug companies typically design a study before they contract with a university to carry out the research. The studies developed by the same company that would profit from its success may be inherently biased in order to highlight the benefits of a drug and minimize any potential risks. In turn, universities are aware that the drug companies funding the research want the study to promote the drug in order to get it approved by the FDA or to increase post-marketing sales.

Universities are likely aware that, if their research does not shine a favorable light on the drug, the pharmaceutical company may contract with another academic institution in the future. It is a system that appears to be inherently biased.


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Click here to view References:

1 Neel J. Medical Schools and Drug Firm Dollars. NPR June 9. 2005.
2 Ibid.
3 Parpia R. Big Pharma pays universities for most research in the U.S. The Vaccine Reaction Apr. 15, 2018.
4 Whoriskey P. As Drug Industry’s Influence Over Research Grows, So Does the Potential for BiasThe Washington Post Nov. 24, 2012.
5 Neel J. Medical Schools and Drug Firm Dollars. NPR June 9. 2005.
6 Ibid.
7 Prakash S. Timeline: The Rise and Fall of Vioxx. NPR Nov. 10, 2007.
8 Neel J. Medical Schools and Drug Firm Dollars. NPR June 9. 2005.
9 Hobley N. Big Pharma’s Influence in Shaping the U.S. Medical Model. The Vaccine Reaction Jan. 22, 2023.
10 Bero L  When big companies fund academic research, the truth often comes last. The Conversation Oct. 2, 2019.
11 Ibid.
12 Engels J. How Medical School Funding From Big Pharma Impacts Your Health. One Green Planet 2014.
13 Kluger J. Is Drug-Company Money Tainting Medical Education? TIME Mar. 6, 2009.
14 Edwards M. Most University Medical Research Brought To You By Big Pharma. Green Lifestyle Market May 10, 2018.
15 Parpia R. Big Pharma pays universities for most research in the U.S. The Vaccine Reaction Apr. 15, 2018.

4 Responses

  1. In Brief: Big Pharma isn’t the only one funding medical schools: An Introduction to UMass Chan Medical School

    Welcome to UMass Chan Medical School.

    On Sept. 7, 2021, a $175 million donation from The Morningside Foundation to the Medical School was announced. The transformative gift is unrestricted.

    In recognition of the historic gift and of the deep commitment to education, research and health care by the Chan family of investors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, UMass Medical School was renamed UMass Chan Medical School.

    The three UMass Chan graduate schools are now the T.H. Chan School of Medicine, the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing.

    Source Document: https://www.umassmed.edu/about/

  2. This has been going on for decades! The very foundation of Medical schooling is built on the idea of a pt has a symptom and the doctor prescribes a medication for that symptom. I have been a medical professional for almost 30 years now and after my mother got cancer is when I saw the writing on the wall! The doctors are brainwashed with “ghost articles” that are derived by big pharma’s deep pockets. They pay researchers to write articles that favor their medicine and pay high profile doctors to put their stamp of approval on it. Just step back and think to yourself, when you, a family member or friend have gone to the doctor with an issue..what do they do? They tell you what medication they are going to put you on right? They NEVER inform or educate you on a lasting solution to your problem. That doesn’t make enough money for the system! My mother was a victim of this with the care she received at the most prestigious cancer hospital in the US in NYC. She was treated like a lab rat with absolutely not one suggestion from the supposed experts on diet, supplementation, nothing! They only wanted to administer expensive toxic treatments of Chemo at the cost of 11,000 per treatment. What I found out after was the most disgusting part, the oncologist gets 5,500 of that! They are the only medical professional that gets a direct kick from the company that makes the chemo. When I read articles like this it makes me happy that this information is brought to light cause it’s horrible when you are on the wrong end of it! I watched my mother suffer till she died because some brainwashed oncologist probably truly believes they are helping people with toxic chemicals all because of what they learned in college. It’s disgusting and the people that are behind all this that have made millions of dollars while innocent people suffer need to pay! I believe whole heartedly in Kharma so for those who have made money at the expense of someone’s livelihood will pay the price in one way or another!

  3. Old news.
    More relevant: NPR has fallen to outside investors like Soros and Gates long ago. Even the integrity of our Public radio/ tv stations has been destroyed.

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