A group of well-known researchers and doctors are calling on professional medical associations (PMAs) to reduce their reliance on funding from the pharmaceutical sector in order to preserve their integrity.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors said PMAs need to "work toward a goal of $0 contributions from industry," excepting revenues from journal advertisements and exhibit hall fees. One of the authors, Steven Nissen, head of Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, noted that PMAs “play a pivotal role in educating physicians and advancing the practice of medicine but they must be scientifically objective and avoid even the appearance of commercial bias”.

He claimed that “only a policy that precludes acceptance of outright financial support from industry can meet the most rigorous standards for independence and integrity". Co-author James Scully, chief executive of the American Psychiatric Association, added that "we must develop a new model for our relationship with industry - one that is both transparent and clearly separates education from marketing".

Another co-author, David Wofsy, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, said that "society will always face controversial issues on which the judgment of physicians and the best interests of patients may not align with the interests of the pharmaceutical industry". As such, PMAs need to be able to respond to these issues “without allowing financial ties to undermine their credibility and without fearing that an independent political position might jeopardise their revenue stream".

The authors acknowledge that achieving $0 support will “inevitably take time”, but say that PMAs should act "immediately" to restrict total industry support to no more than 25% of their operating budget. This interim goal would "begin to wean PMAs from industry support without putting their survival into jeopardy," says the group.

The increase in the efforts by the US Congress to push for greater transparency and more stringent limits on pharmaceutical industry relationships with medicine, means that action is required now, the group says. Lead author David Rothman, president of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession at Columbia University, noted that "PMAs understand fully that they are at a turning point and the rules of the game have changed. Medicine has got to start taking leadership. If they don't do it themselves, it will be done to them".