Response to Bloomberg Article on Celgene Payment: David Steensma

To the Editor:

Re article, “From Nightmare Drug to Celgene Blockbuster, Thalidomide Is Back” (Aug. 22):

The article quotes me accurately about the importance of physicians collaborating with pharmaceutical companies, but doing so cautiously, since our primary goal as physicians is to improve the health of our patients, while industry sponsors are for-profit companies.

However, the piece incorrectly states that “Celgene paid” me $26,262 “to help track patients with certain blood cancers”.

The cited source is the 2015 Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Open Payments website, a legacy of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act (a section of the 2010 Affordable Care Act).

I did not receive $26,262 from Celgene for assistance in tracking patients with blood cancers. I recently provided a copy of the relevant tax form to the reporter and his editor to confirm this. The design of the tracking study in question, in which 1,500 consenting patients will be followed for up to eight years, has recently been published in an open access journal, BioMedCentral Cancer:

While transparency in financial transactions between physicians and industry is important, it is well recognized that data in the CMS Open Payments website can be misleading. For instance, payments to institutions to support research personnel or for administrative fees related to clinical studies are often attributed to investigators overseeing those trials, even though the investigator does not receive this money personally.

If a professional writer is involved in preparation of a manuscript or an abstract describing results of a clinical trial (and these writers are often hired by companies, whether academic authors want them or not), thousands of dollars in value for those writing services are imputed to each of the physician authors and are reported to the Open Payments website. If an investigator participates in a meeting to discuss a clinical trial design, such as a discussion with a study sponsor and with other investigators about which patient groups are more or less likely to benefit from a new molecule, the cost of food brought into the conference room during that meeting is reported to the Open Payments website, whether or not any food was actually consumed. Funds to pay physician speakers for promotional talks (which I have never given) are indistinguishable from funds supporting legitimate research projects.

David Steensma, MD
Adult Leukemia Program, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

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