Pfizer is to stop direct funding for certain continuing medical education (CME) schemes in the USA in a bid to avoid any accusations of conflict of interest.

The New York-based behemoth said that it is eliminating all direct funding for physician CME programmes that are provided by medical education and communication companies (MECCs). However, it will continue to fund CME courses that are sponsored by organisations such as academic institutions, associations, community hospitals and medical societies.

Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Pfizer’s chief medical officer Joseph Feczko said that CME, “when done right, improves healthcare provider understanding of disease, expands evidence-based treatment, and contributes to patient safety”. However, “we understand that even the appearance of conflicts in CME is damaging and we are determined to take actions that are in the best interests of patients and physicians,” he added.

Most US states require physicians to receive a certain number of CME credits each year, between 15 and 50, and Pfizer (as well as many other drugmakers) have helped fund programmes put on by accredited institutions and organisations. Now to qualify for Pfizer support in the future, CME programmes will have to meet stricter criteria which will involve initiating a competitive review period for grant applicants and supporting financial caps on said grants.

The announcement earned a positive response from Dave Davis at the Association of American Medical Colleges, who said that the move by Pfizer, “to my knowledge the first among commercial supporters of CME, represents a significant advance in the profession’s ability to address the complex issue of conflict of interest”. George Mejicano of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health claimed that the announcement “sends a strong signal that educational funds must be used appropriately."