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Our scientific/medical Society added a Special Symposium to its Annual Meeting Program. The symposium organiser, who is an academic member of the Society, invited seven speakers, all from academic institutions, in addition to himself to speak at the symposium. Support for the symposium as a whole was solicited independently by the Development Committee of the Society and had no influence on the composition and subject matter of the symposium, except that the sponsors wanted to have an Enduring Material (ie, publication) resulting from the symposium. The support included honoraria for the seven speakers, which were higher than those for other speakers at the meeting, in part because these speakers were requested to produce articles.
We wish to publish the papers (we expect them to be review articles) in our journal. To minimise printing costs we prefer that they be included in a regular issue of the journal, rather than in a special supplement. The articles will be subjected to the regular peer review process that we use for review articles. Our plans are for the symposium organiser to write a prologue disclosing the nature and sources of commercial support for the symposium. The papers will be grouped, immediately following this prologue at the end of a journal issue, and will be marked “Special Symposium Presentation—Review”.
Is this sufficient disclosure to satisfy questions of conflict of interest? Alternatively, would it be necessary to state within each article that the author received an honorarium (or support) for the preparation of the article? Also, would it be necessary to print a disclosure statement of financial interest and/or other relationship with commercial entities (including some symposium sponsors) for the authors of each article within their manuscript, although this is not the general current practice in our journal?
The Forum noted that for industry sponsored supplements, conflicts of interest (CoIs) would not appear on PubMed if the CoIs only appeared in the prologue. Hence the advice was to publish full disclosure for all authors in each of the articles individually. It is necessary to consider each paper as a separate entity, as in this age of internet use, papers in a supplement can be viewed individually. Therefore, it is essential to state within each article that the author received an honorarium for the preparation of the article and also to print a disclosure statement for the authors of each article within their manuscript of the financial interest and/or other relationship with commercial entities. The symposium sponsors should also be listed on each article. Those indexing and abstracting the articles should also be made aware of this so that each article is cited correctly on PubMed. The Forum noted that the journal may wish to have a written policy on supplements and was told that the Council of Science Editors (CSE) provides information on policies for supplements in its white paper on publication ethics (www.councilscienceeditors.org), which the editor may find useful. Above all, the process should be seen to be open and transparent.
Following the advice from the Forum, the editor has instigated a process whereby there will be footnotes on presentations and special symposium to be published together in an upcoming issue of the journal, which will take the form of: “This paper is based on a presentation at a Special Symposium on (date), (title), for which the presenting author received an honorarium. (Name of Author 1) has consulting and/or financial relationships with (List of Companies whether or not related to study). (Name of Author 2) etc. (Name of Author 3) and (Name of Author 4) have nothing to declare.”
After further inquiry with the Development Committee that the raised money, it was ascertained that the money was raised for the Annual Meeting and not specifically for the symposium. Therefore, it will not be possible to identify specific sponsors for the symposium.
An online post-publication literature evaluation service aiming to highlight the best articles in medicine has received evaluation of articles published in supplement issues of journals. Given that many supplements are funded by pharmaceutical companies, should we have a different policy on how to handle such evaluations? If so, what suggestions do you have?
The committee felt that it is not necessary to dismiss supplements out of hand as some can be very informative (published abstracts, non-commercial supplements). On the other hand, some members of the committee felt that the conflict of interest combined with the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical companies should deter publication of any evaluations of supplements. The majority view, however, was that a different policy for supplements is not necessary, as long the sponsorship and conflict of interest issues are transparent. It should be made clear if funding is received from pharmaceutical companies.
An editorial board member of a journal submitted an unsolicited review article on a drug. The editor said the journal would consider the article, but suspected that the article had been commissioned or even written by a drugs company. S/he stipulated that the author must provide a financial disclosure statement before the article could be accepted. The journal published the review article, which had been refereed by two independent reviewers. The author disclosed in his competing interests that he had been a paid consultant for the company that markets the drug. Several months after publication, an agent for the drug company ordered reprints of the article. The agent requested the wording: “This literature review was supported by [X]” be included on the cover sheet of each reprint. The agent was advised that this statement could not be added because the author had not disclosed it. The agent insisted, so the journal contacted the author. The author asked: “Does the final article have these words or something that states the article was in part supported by [X]?” A copy of the agent’s wording and the competing interest statement from the published article were sent to the author, who replied that he was fine with it as long as the publisher was. The author was then asked to explain the extent of the drug company’s involvement in writing the review article. The author replied that the competing interest statement in the article was accurate; the review had been written independently of any pharmaceutical company, and that the requested statement from the agent was inappropriate. The author was contacted again to point out the contradiction in his two replies. At the same time the agent was asked to question the drug company as to whether it had paid the author to write the review, and to confirm the extent to which the drug company had been involved in preparation of the manuscript. The agent did not reply; neither did the drug company. Eventually, the agent cancelled the reprint order. The author finally replied to confirm that he had been confused by the original request, thinking that clarification of whether he was a paid consultant to the drug company was required. He said that when it became apparent in a follow-up email that the drug company wanted the extra statement added, he realised it was inappropriate. The author assured the editors that the drug company would write a letter of explanation soon. The letter has yet to arrive.
- This case raises serious concerns. The connection was not made clear and this is a full conflict of interest. - The paper should be retracted. - The author should be asked explicitly if s/he had been paid by drug companies to write this review.