Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Groups charged with protecting patients rights took big money from drug companies, a new study says.
Advocacy groups in the U.S. received 74 percent of total contributions from the 10 largest pharmaceutical companies in 2016, according to a study published Thursday in American Journal of Public Health. That amounted to $88 million.
"Patient advocacy groups have an important role when they testify in Congress, at the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and other government agencies," Gerard Anderson, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University and study senior co-author, said in a news release. "It is important for policymakers to understand the funding sources for these organizations."
Advocacy groups work out of nearly all industrialized countries, educating patients and caregivers on health care issues and lobbying for various support and treatment options.
In all, the pharmaceutical companies gave a total of $120 million to patient advocacy funding groups in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, as well as the United Kingdom. The groups in the U.S. got $88 million of that amount.
The drug companies included Pfizer, Novartis, Roche, Sanofi, Merck, AbbVie, Amgen, Gilead, Janssen and GlaxoSmithKline. Those companies raked in 41 percent of all pharmaceutical revenue in 2016.
"Patient advocacy groups have grown exponentially in the last 10 years, but the magnitude of pharmaceutical industry funding to them across countries has not been measured before," said So-Yeon Kang, a research associate at Johns Hopkins University and study senior author. "Patient advocacy organizations are supposed to represent their constituents' interests. Transparency is critical to avoid conflict of interests."
The study points to the need for more transparency funding to these advocacy groups in order to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest.
Payments from drug companies to doctors have also been linked to increased opioid prescribing.
"If financial support to patient advocacy organizations is really about patient education, you would expect the funding to be the same in each country," Anderson said. "This analysis shows that there's no correlation and something more than patient education influences the level of patient advocacy organization support in a country."