Half of NCI Cancer Center Physician Directors Received Industry Payments in 2017

In 2017, about half of physician directors at National Cancer Institute cancer centers received payments related to research, while a quarter received payments over $5,000 that were not related to research.

In 2017, about half of physician directors of National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer centers received industry payments, according to a new research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Our findings raise the question of whether industry payments to the directors of publicly supported institutions, such as NCI-designated cancer centers, serve the public interest,” David Carr, MD, of University of California, San Diego, and H. Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH, of Thetford, Vermont, wrote in the research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine. “Policy makers-and the public-should consider whether such payments should be allowed, limited, or eliminated.”

Carr and Welch used data from 2015 to 2017 in the Open Payments database, which includes payments from pharmaceutical and medical device companies for all US physicians. In 2017, there were 53 physician directors of NCI-designated cancer centers. Of these, 44 held the same position in 2016 and 41 in 2015.

Payments totaled $4.42 million in 2017, including $1.89 million in research payments to 12 directors, and $2.53 million in non-research payments to 22 directors. Only about one-half of physician directors of National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer centers received industry payments in 2017, while one-quarter received a payment of “significant financial interest” unrelated to research.

The NCI defines payments over $5,000 that are unrelated to research as being a “significant financial interest.” Twenty-three percent of payments unrelated to research in 2017 exceeded $5,000.

Twenty-seven of the 53 directors (51%) received no payments, but 19 (36%) received payments over $5,000 that were unrelated to research. Two directors received non-research payments of more than $50,000. One of these two large payments was for $2.27 million, almost all of which was categorized in Open Payment as being for “compensation for services other than consulting, including serving as faculty or a speaker at a venue other than a continuing education program.”

The researchers noted that “the NCI conflict of interest policy is silent on research payments”. The largest research payment in 2017 was $863,000. Of 12 physician directors who received research payments, 10 were for more than $5,000 and four for more than $50,000.

Carr and Welch noted that information in the database is limited because it lacks data about services provided and provides no information on whether payment influence the physician directors.