Top American doctors are being paid to leak what they know about clinical drug trials to Wall Street firms in search of quick profits. Reporters at the Seattle Times found at least 26 cases of leaking, even at elite universities like UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania. Doctors are typically paid US$300 to $500 per hour and can make thousands of dollars each year — even though they are probably violating confidentiality agreements made with the drug company. “The practice is a moral cesspool,” says bioethicist Arthur Caplan. “It really just seems to me to be the last straw in the corporatisation of American medicine.”
The practice of selling inside information on drug trials is being driven by the increasing importance of hedge funds on Wall Street. They exploit quick price swings in share prices, based on shrewd analyses of a company’s prospects or on information which is not available to ordinary investors. “What this has to do with is people who are so greedy in the market that they are willing to break all the rules to make money,” says David Miller, of the Seattle-based newsletter Biotech Monthly.
A whole industry has sprung up, says the Times, to match up doctors who have access to research trials with hedge funds and mutual funds. The leading figure is the Gerson Lehrman Group, which claims to have 60,000 doctors on its books. Although some doctors defend the practice, the Times claims that it is clearly illegal: Misappropriating company secrets violates federal securities laws. And the practice of selling secrets is illegal for all parties involved, including doctors, hedge funds and research analysts, legal experts say.”
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