Has the Capitalist Bug Infected Medical Research?

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America, hold on to your Prozac. It turns out that the awe-inspiring wealth and power of the world's major drug companies may not always be a good thing. If, like any good scientist, you need some proof, take the fears raised this week by New England Journal of Medicine editor Dr. Marcia Angell, whose scathing editorial picks apart the current research practices employed in many of the country's most reputable institutions. Money from drug companies, explains Angell, funds research — which is then distributed to the FDA and the public as proof that a treatment is safe and effective. Angell's crying foul may provoke public outrage; that's not the way most of us imagine the behind-the-scenes genesis of our favorite prescription.

If the public is taken aback by this cozy relationship, it's only because we haven't been paying attention. "One of the long-standing sticking points in the relationship between private industry and supposedly objective academic research is that researchers obviously need money," says TIME medical contributor Dr. Ian Smith. And a lot of that cash comes straight from pharmaceutical firms. "So when research yields findings that fly in the face of a drug company's agenda, where do you think all that information goes?" Right into the garbage can. And there isn't a whole lot consumers can do to fight the drug companies, who insist that since they disclose their research funding to the public, no further discussion is warranted. Some particularly puritanical (or well-endowed) academic institutions continue to turn their backs on drug-industry lucre, although their exceptional behavior exposes a new quandary: Will more lenient institutions will be flooded with dirty research dollars while upstanding researchers sulk penniless on the sidelines?