Politics: declaring conflicts of interest

How to manage conflicts of interest in a transparent way? #MSBlog #MSResearch #MSPolitics

“I note that Mouse Doctor’s post, whilst I was in South Africa, on conflicts of interest resulted in a heated debate. When I give a talk at a meeting, or session, that is sponsored by a company I usually tell the audience to take anything I say about that Company’s product with a pinch-of-salt. It is up to the audience to put what I say into context. It is very difficult to find an MSologist who does not have conflicts of interest. I have been told that when the FDA were recently trying to put together an advisory committee to assess a new DMT they were finding it impossible to recruit neurologists, with the necessary MS expertise, without conflicts of interest. Hence most of the neurologists on these panels are conflicted. They way to deal with the latter is to declare the conflicts and try be self-aware about the influence these conflicts have over your decision making. I suspect, however, the influence may be subliminal.”

“The reality is that if you want to develop drugs for MSers you have to do it in partnership with Pharma. Unfortunately, Pharma are the only show in town. You only have to look at the current therapies for MS and the future MS drug pipeline to realise that not to acknowledge this is to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face. For more information on this topic, and a possible road forward, please read my previous post on ‘lessons from the simvastatin trial‘,”

“Please note it is not only scientists and neurologists who have conflicts of interest so do the MS Charities. You may find the following article in last week’s BMJ of interest.”

Arie & Mahony. Feature: Competing Interests – Should patient groups be more transparent about their funding? BMJ 2014; 349 (Published 29 September 2014)


….. The recent decision that the multiple sclerosis drug nabiximols should be available on the NHS in Wales was met by MS charities as a small triumph for patients…..

…. “As a charity we have campaigned over a long period for Sativex [nabiximols] to be widely available because of the significant impact that MS spasticity can have on daily activities,” Amy Bowen, director of service development at the Multiple Sclerosis Trust, told the BBC..

…. The MS Trust failed, however, to mention either in media interviews or in lobbying documents, that it receives funding from the German drug giant Bayer, which markets the drug in the UK….

…. In June this year, the head of the MS Society, Michelle Mitchell, wrote a letter in the Daily Telegraph, co-signed by several MS experts, criticising the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for blocking access to the “life-changing” drugs nabiximols and fampridine even though “they are licensed and proven to be effective at helping people walk more easily and control painful muscle spasms.” Yet the letter did not mention that the MS Society had received money from the companies who make and market those drugs …..

…. The MS Society received over £21 000 from Biogen Idec, £46 000 from Genzyme, and £5000 from Bayer in 2013. The charity names its corporate donors on the “corporate supporters” page of its website, but to find the sums involved you have to look at the last element of the annual accounts on page 50 of its 54 page annual review..

CoI: multiple

About the author

Prof G

Professor of Neurology, Barts & The London. MS & Preventive Neurology thinker, blogger, runner, vegetable gardener, husband, father, cook and wine & food lover.


  • Clearly a difficult and tortuous road to walk down. Openness is the best policy; but how open is open. At least on this blog you declare your conflicts and we don't have to go looking for them.

  • Over the past few years I noticed that the MS society was always campaigning for the Government to approve drugs for MS patients. I took the trouble to look into the conflicts of interest of the teams at the charity. Sadly, this upset me and it changed the way I donate. I started to support Cancer Research as I trusted them. I made the decision that should I have a windfall I would donate directly to the doctors or research scientists. Also, I decided to take part in any research that I could to alleviate my feeling of guilt. I just feel the MS society has lost it's way, although I do recognise the substantial amount or money it raises for MS sufferers.

    • the ms societies have tbe best interezts of msers at heart they campaign to get people access to treatmemts they are not in the back pockef of pharma.Will they take pharma money course they should and will do it. You do people a diservice if you think that cannot strike a balance.

    • Please have a look at the Homepage of the MS society and the Cancer Research site. I hate it every time I hear of a new person diagnosed with both diseases. These are the first pages the sufferers will see, I find it disheartening. I know which charity would give me more hope. Maybe I am doing people a disservice, but I can't help it, I need convincing.

    • An interesting contrast. Much depends on what the charity perceives as their target demographic. With cancer research, it seems from their home page that it is a social media celeb obsessed demographic – very Gen Y. It looks active, engaging and dynamic. And that probably works very well for them. I'm not sure the MS society are fully in this decade. Personally I'm not a fan of the MS society but I think they do a reasonable job, and like with all charities, most people working for them will believe fervently in what they are doing.

By Prof G



Recent Posts

Recent Comments