UNITE HERE calls on the American Heart Association to Limit Pharma's Influence

As volunteers raise money in annual Heart Walks, AHA should ensure industry ties do not shape recommendations.

Sep 11, 2015, 09:40 ET from UNITE HERE

NEW YORK, Sept. 11, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A UNITE HERE report [available at http://bit.ly/AHAcontributions] has uncovered that the American Heart Association (AHA), its leadership, and authors of its guidelines accept large contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. As volunteers for the organization raise money in Heart Walks across the country, the labor union is calling on the AHA to take concrete steps to minimize the industry's influence.

Some examples of payments to the AHA, its leadership, and guidelines-authors include:

  • Dr. Robert Eckel, former AHA president and co-author of certain cholesterol-related AHA guidelines, received nearly $33K in industry payments in 2014. Over $14K came from drug maker Sanofi Aventis. Express Scripts' Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Miller wrote in July 2015 that the company's new cholesterol-lowering drug, Praluent, and other "PCSK9-inhibitors" like it, could cost U.S. payers and patients more than $100 billion per year if not managed properly.
  • Dr. Mark Creager, the current AHA president, received over $30,000 in 2013 and 2014 combined from pharmaceutical companies Novartis and AstraZeneca.
  • The AHA received over $15 million from pharmaceutical, medical device, and health-insurance companies in the 2013-14 fiscal year, including nearly $3.3 million from Pfizer.

Among other recommendations, UNITE HERE calls on the AHA to convene a panel of independent experts who do not receive income from pharmaceutical industries to review the 2013 ACC/AHA cholesterol guidelines and risk calculator. In 2013, medical experts raised concerns about the guidelines and calculator, with Dr. Nancy Cook and Dr. Paul M. Ridker of Harvard Medical School writing that they open the door to "considerable overprescription" of cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Johns Hopkins University researchers recently echoed these concerns. Earlier this year, Andrew Paul DeFilippis, M.D., M.Sc., lead author of a study by investigators at Johns Hopkins and other institutions, stated that the ACC/AHA calculator considerably overrated risk, which "could lead to more health care spending, less health gain, and unnecessary exposure to drug side effects."

Doctors have also called for a review and updates of the guidelines in light of new cholesterol-lowering PCSK9-inhibitor drugs, including Praluent, which Dr. Miller said "are on a path to become the costliest therapy class this country has ever seen."

UNITE HERE also recommends that the AHA prohibit directors, guideline authors, and other AHA leaders from accepting payments from the pharmaceutical, health-insurance, or food-service industries. The labor union also recommends that the AHA publicly declare the precise contributions made to the organization by individuals or corporations in those industries.