The New York Times
reports that the FDA is planning to reform its waiver granting process for doctors and scientists who sit on its advisory boards. Unfortunately, it is not the extent necessary to eliminate the conflicts that plague these boards. According to the story, the FDA will make the waiver process more transparent and would bar those doctors and scientists who have current financial ties to the drugmaker being reviewed.
But this misses the larger issue, which is the potential future financial relationships between scientists and drugmakers. Let's face reality here- the big pharmaceutical companies fund most research into drugs, whether performed at a university or elsewhere. It would be beyond naive to think that doctors and scientists who wish to work in pharmaceutical research would ignore their future interests and be truly objective in evaluating drugs, especially when their honesty runs counter to Big Pharma's bottom line.
The only real way to avoid these conflicts is to bar any doctor or scientist who has current, or past, economic ties with the drugmaker whose drug is being reviewed from serving on that advisory board. But beyond that, the FDA should also require advisory board members to refrain from accepting any sort of financial relationship with a company whose drug they have reviewed for a period of five years from the conclusion of their service on the advisory board.
If the FDA was really serious about eradicating their conflicts of interest problems, they would adopt something more stringent than what is under review. However, the current reform is nothing more than window dressing, a disingenuous attempt at being ethical.