This Is Your University, on Drugs

In 2002, an independent study on hormone replacement therapy was halted, because the drugs were strongly linked to an "increased risk for breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots" in women. The same year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison began offering an online course, "funded entirely by a $12 million grant from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals," that "promoted hormone therapy, touted its benefits and downplayed its risks." Wyeth makes two hormone therapy drugs, Prempro and Premarin. "The course material was developed largely by DesignWrite, a new Jersey-based firm paid by Wyeth," and offered under the name of the "Council on Hormone Education," whose members are Wyeth, DesignWrite and the UW. "Thirty-four of the 40 council member physicians have financial ties to Wyeth," reports the Journal Sentinel. Medical professionals without ties to Wyeth called the course materials "not good science" and "pure, undisguised marketing." The UW also offers "a smoking cessation course, funded by Pfizer, the maker of a smoking cessation drug; a program on restless legs syndrome, funded by Boehringer Ingelheim, the maker of a drug that treats the condition; and a course on premenstrual dysphoric disorder, funded by Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals." Recently, Senator Charles Grassley asked the UW about surgeon and researcher Thomas Zdeblick, who received $19 million over five years from the spinal device company Medtronic. University disclosures simply required Zdeblick to indicate he had received "$20,000 or more" from the company each year.