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Exploring Pharmaceutical Funding: Insights from the 2nd General Symposium

Tetsuya Tanimoto, M.D. Physician, Medical Governance Research Institute

On April 13th, our institute hosted its second public symposium on the Pharmaceutical Money Database (DB), a continuation from last year's inaugural event. Approximately 40 participants, both on-site and online, engaged in spirited discussions.

The symposium was opened by Dr. Masahiro Kami, Chairman of our institute, followed by Dr. Hiroaki Saito, who moderated the event. Coinciding with the release of the latest edition of the "YEN FOR DOCS" database for the fiscal year 2021, the symposium featured diverse presentations on conflict of interest cases and the utilization of the database.

Since its inception in 2019, Dr. Akihiko Ozaki, who has led this project, delivered a lecture titled "Pharmaceutical Money and Drug Safety". Drawing from past experiences, he discussed future directions, including recent drug-related issues and safety measures, emphasizing the need to maintain the database as a mechanism for checks and balances on conflicts of interest.

Ms. Erika Yamashita, a researcher at our Institute, explained "The Future and Current State of the DB Project". She introduced the data collection system of the database and future project plans, also revealing that some doctors receive annual honoraria exceeding ten million yen.

Mr. Yasushi Kawaguchi, editor-in-chief of Rohas Medical, presented a talk titled "Others' Problems Seem Trivial", highlighting the case of Tecentriq, which is a drug used for breast cancer patients. He pointed out that even physicians without conflict of interest declarations could be found in the DB receiving substantial payments, identifying the absence of motivated stakeholders as the core issue.

Mr. Natsuya Sakata, a medical student at Tohoku University shared his research internship experience at the University of Bath in the UK. Under the guidance of Mr. Piotr Ozięlanski, he conducted interviews with patient groups and pharmaceutical companies and surveys of specialists, showcasing his findings in a youthful manner.

Dr. Yosuke Suzuki, an obstetrician, lectured on third-party funding from pharmaceutical companies to the medical field. He discussed a scheme of funding through separate organizations such as NPOs, using a 20-year-old case from the Advanced Medical Research Support Organization.

After 25 years at Astellas Pharma, Mr. Hidenori Maeda, now a professor at Meiji Pharmaceutical University, discussed "The History, Current State, and Challenges of Medical Affairs in Japan". He touched on the division of medical and promotional functions in pharmaceutical companies and questioned the necessity of sales departments through Astellas' discontinuation of scholarship donations.

In the final discussion, the significance of continuing private DB creation alongside governmental efforts was debated. Dr. Kami emphasized the need for a historical perspective, noting how countries with national health insurance systems often implemented them as an apology to their citizens after WWII devastation, unlike the victorious and less physically ravaged USA.

The symposium concluded by addressing the increasingly salaried nature of university professors receiving large honoraria from pharmaceutical companies, amidst concerns for the sustainability of the national health insurance system. The ongoing role of the DB and the importance of continued grassroots activities were highlighted as essential.

We look forward to continuing these important discussions and sharing further insights in our future editions.

This article was originally published in Japanese in Iyakukeizai (Pharmaceuticals and Economics) on May 1, 2024.


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