Doctors' Links With Investors Raise Concerns

Big Pharma at it again.

At first, the calls seemed innocuous. Investment companies were offering Dr. Ronald B. Natale $200 or $300 for 15 minutes, asking that he discuss general trends in lung cancer, sometimes over the telephone. But Dr. Natale became suspicious as the money offers kept growing, just before he was to present the case for Iressa, a new lung cancer drug, to a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel in September 2002. Dr. Natale's access to research data on Iressa made him an attractive source for investment researchers seeking inside information. "Wow, they were offering $1,000, $1,500, for 30 minutes of my time," said Dr. Natale, a prominent researcher at Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles. He said he routinely turned down offers to speak to investors. While Dr. Natale has qualms, other doctors apparently do not. Nearly 10 percent of the nation's 700,000 doctors have signed up as consultants with a new segment of the investment industry - companies that act as the of the investment world, according to an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association. For a fee, they arrange conversations between investors and leading professionals, experts or even employees of major companies.