Most nonprofit patient-advocacy organizations receive financial backing from drug, device, and biotechnology companies, according to an article appearing recently in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The investigators, who are with the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, caution that the practice introduces the potential for conflicts of interest.

Matthew McCoy, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of medical ethics and health policy, and colleagues reviewed the tax records, annual reports, and websites of 104 US-based, nonprofit patient-advocacy organizations with yearly revenues of at least $7.5 million for the year 2014. Although media and watchdog groups have reported on financial relationships between patient-advocacy organizations and drug, device, and technology companies, the studies that have been conducted on such relationships thus far have had important limitations, the authors pointed out.

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Notably, many of the studies have not been published in peer-reviewed publications or have included a small number of patient-advocacy organizations. In addition, some studies have included only small organizations instead of larger organizations that are more likely to have a greater impact on the public.

In the new study, 83% of patient-advocacy organizations reported that they received financial support from drug, device, and technology companies.