PsA Guidelines Need Improvement on Conflicts of Interest

Jeff Evans

October 10, 2022

Physician authors of clinical practice guidelines for psoriatic arthritis in the United States and Japan received payments from pharmaceutical companies totaling over $7 million during 2016-2018, according to a retrospective analysis of all authors on the most recent guidelines issued by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the Japanese Dermatological Association (JDA).

In addition to finding that the majority of the authors of psoriatic arthritis (PsA) clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) issued by the JDA and ACR received substantial personal payments from pharmaceutical companies before and during CPG development, researchers led by Hanano Mamada and Anju Murayama of the Medical Governance Research Institute, Tokyo, wrote in Arthritis Care & Research that “several CPG authors self-cited their articles without the disclosure of NFCOI [nonfinancial conflicts of interest], and most of the recommendations were based on low or very low quality of evidence. Although the COI policies used by JDA and ACR are clearly inadequate, no significant revisions have been made for the last 3 years.”

Based on their findings, which were made using payment data from major Japanese pharmaceutical companies and the U.S. Open Payments Database from 2016 to 2018, the researchers suggested that the medical societies should:

  • Adopt global standard COI policies from organizations such as the National Academy of Medicine and Guidelines International Network, including a 3-year lookback period for COI declaration.

  • Consider a comprehensive definition and rigorous management with full disclosure of NFCOI.

  • Publish a list of authors making each recommendation to grasp the implications of COI in clinical practice guidelines.

  • Mention the detailed date of the COI disclosure, which should be close to the publication date as much as possible.

Financial Conflicts of Interest

The researchers used payment data published between 2016 and 2018 for all 83 companies belonging to the Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, focusing on personal payments (for lecturing, writing, and consultancy) and excluding research payments, “since in Japan, the name, institution, and position of the author or researcher who received the research payment is not disclosed, which makes assessing research payments difficult.” To evaluate authors’ FCOI in the ACR’s CPG, the researchers analyzed the U.S. Open Payments Database “for all categories of general payments such as speaking, consulting, meals, and travel expenses 3 years from before the guideline’s first online publication on November 30, 2018.”

The 2018 ACR/National Psoriasis Foundation Guideline for the Treatment of Psoriatic Arthritis had 36 authors and the JDA’s Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Psoriatic Arthritis 2019 had 23. Overall, 61% of JDA authors and half of ACR authors voluntarily declared FCOI with pharmaceutical companies; 25 of the ACR authors were U.S. physicians and could be included in the Open Payments Database search.

A total of 21 (91.3%) JDA authors and 21 (84.0%) ACR authors received at least one payment, with the combined total of $3,335,413 and $4,081,629 payments, respectively, over the 3 years. The average and median personal payments were $145,018 and $123,876 for JDA authors and $162,825 and $58,826 for ACR authors. When the payments to ACR authors were limited to lecturing, writing, and consulting fees that are required under the ACR’s COI policy, the mean was $130,102 and median was $39,375. The corresponding payments for JDA authors were $123,876 and $8,170, respectively.

The researchers found undisclosed payments for more than three-quarters of physician authors of the Japanese guideline, and nearly half of the doctors authoring the American guideline had undisclosed payments. These added up to $474,000 for the JDA, which amounted to 38% of the total for personal payments that must be reported to the JDA based on its COI policy for clinical practice guidelines, and $218,000 for the ACR, amounting to 18% of the total for personal payments that must be reported to the society based on its COI policy.

Of the 11 ACR authors who were not eligible for the U.S. Open Payments Database search, 5 declared FCOI with pharmaceutical companies in the guideline, meaning that 26 (72%) of the 36 authors had FCOI with pharmaceutical companies.

The ACR only required authors to declare FCOI covering 1 year before and during guideline development, and although the JDA required authors to declare their FCOI for the past 3 years of guideline development, the study authors noted that the JDA guideline disclosed them for only 2 years (between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018).

“It is true that influential doctors such as clinical practice guideline authors tend to receive various types of payments from pharmaceutical companies and that it is difficult to conduct research without funding from pharmaceutical companies. However, our current research mainly focuses on personal payments from pharmaceutical companies such as lecture fees and consulting fees. These payments are recognized as pocket money and are not used for research. Thus, it is questionable that the observed relationships are something evitable,” the researchers wrote.

Nonfinancial Conflicts of Interest

Many authors of the ACR’s CPG and the JDA’s CPG also had NFCOI, defined objectively in this study as self-citation rate. NFCOI have been more broadly defined by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) as “conflicts, such as personal relationships or rivalries, academic competition, and intellectual beliefs”; the ICMJE recommends reporting NFCOI on its COI form.

The JDA guideline included self-citations by 78% of its authors, compared with 32% of the ACR guideline authors, but this weighed differently among the two guidelines in that only 12 of the 354 (3.4%) citations in the JDA guideline were self-cited, compared with 46 of 137 (34%) citations in the ACR guideline.

The researchers noted that while the self-citation rates between JDA and ACR authors “differed remarkably,” the impact of ACR authors on CPG recommendations was much more direct. Three-quarters of JDA authors’ self-cited articles were about observational studies, whereas 52% of the ACR authors’ self-cited articles were clinical trials, most of which were randomized, controlled studies, and these NFCOI were not disclosed in the guideline.

Half of the strong recommendations in the JDA guideline were based on low or very low quality of evidence, whereas the ACR guideline had no strong recommendations based on low or very low quality of evidence.

This study was supported by the nonprofit Medical Governance Research Institute, which receives donations from Ain Pharmacies Inc., other organizations, and private individuals. The study also received support from the Tansa (formerly known as the Waseda Chronicle), an independent nonprofit news organization dedicated to investigative journalism. Three authors reported receiving personal fees from several pharmaceutical companies for work outside of the scope of this study.

This story originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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