Giving doctors an insider's view

The vendor area of a medical convention.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Here's a story about the kind of information that helped put Martha Stewart behind bars: Inside results about the effectiveness of an important cancer drug from the biotech firm ImClone. This time, though, it'll be a lot tougher to zero-in on the possible inside traders. You could say the list of suspects includes 24,000 physicians. And some analysts are convinced insiders are trading on the information. Here's Marketplace's Bob Moon.


BOB MOON: There's "no question" in the mind of T. Rowe Price biotech analyst Jay Markowitz. He's sure that the mysterious movements in a handful of pharmaceutal shares — significant ups and downs in their stock prices — are the result of clinical trial data that's supposed to be a secret.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology sent confidential summaries, or abstracts, to ASCO members ahead of its conference on June 1st. Markowitz is urging the group to start being fair to those not privvy to the information.

JAY MARKOWITZ: They have one of two choices in my view, and that is to either release the abstracts to everyone, like most other medical meetings do by providing the public access to them on their website, or releasing them to no one.

It's a little late for that second remedy in this case. The previews are already in the hands of 24,000 doctors. The head of the Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine, Dr. Roy Poses, says this isn't just a question of business ethics. He sees no valid medical reason to limit release of the data.

ROY POSES: You are doing a disservice to those patients who voluntarily consented to participate in the trial if you send out the information resulting from that trial in some sort of restricted manner. Because if it's going to advance science and health care, it should go to everybody who might be interested at the same time.

And Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a former chair of ASCO's ethics committee, says patients should always come first, not stock trades:

EZEKIEL EMANUEL: In some ways this makes me sad, because it says that the policies of a professional medical organization should be determined primarily by what's happening on Wall Street.

ASCO told us it plans to review its policies for next year's meeting "in consideration of this year's experience."

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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