There is “quite extensive evidence” that charitable and educational grants from the pharmaceutical industry have been abused to influence public health and policy decisions improperly, a US public health coalition has claimed.

Big pharmaceutical companies should disclose all their charitable and educational grants and gifts, says a letter sent by the coalition - which includes Essential Action, the American Public Health Association, Families USA, Health Action International, Oxfam International and Public Citizen - to leading drugmakers and industry associations.

“Big Pharma has used its charitable and educational funding to influence key public policy debates, affect doctors’ prescribing decisions and over-promote diseases and drug treatments,” claims Robert Weissman, director of Essential Action, which organised the letter. “Disclosure of industry funding of think tanks, patient groups, and continuing education courses doesn’t cure this problem, but it is a start,” he adds.

“Purportedly educational” programmes sponsored by industry may improperly promote drugs, including for off-label uses, while consumer groups worldwide have repeatedly found industry-funded patient groups promoting particular medicines, and industry-friendly public policies, without sufficient regard for safety concerns, the coalition claims. However, in May, Eli Lilly began publishing its charitable and educational contributions in the USA and the coalition’s letter urges other companies to follow Lilly’s lead, on a global basis.

The full text of the public health coalition letter and list of signatories is available at: www.pharmadisclose.org. By Lynne Taylor