The American Veterinary Medical Association today expressed its “disappointment and concern” with a newspaper investigation that questioned the fast-track development of animal drugs and examined how the pharmaceutical industry’s relationship with AVMA and veterinarians creates potential conflicts of interest.
The three-part Indianapolis Star series, titled “Pets at Risk,” also noted that despite growing appreciation of the human-animal bond, U.S. pet owners may recover only minimal damages, if any, when drugs or veterinary care fall short of expectations.
AVMA President Ted Cohn, DVM, sent a letter to the editor that he said spelled out “our disappointment and concern about a series of articles that we believe impugn veterinarians and call into question their integrity and professionalism.”
“The articles are heavy on conjecture and innuendo and short on facts,” Dr. Cohn wrote.
The lead article explained how animal drugs are tested on only a fraction of individuals compared with research into human medications, saving the veterinary companies time and money but raising the possibility of unforeseen side effects.
Trifexis, a flea and heartworm preventive drug manufactured by Elanco Animal Health of Greenfield, Ind., was spotlighted because of pet owner claims that the medication has killed hundreds of dogs—charges that Elanco disputes.
Defending the drug, Elanco told the newspaper “there continues to be no established link between Trifexis use and death,” and the company website points out that Trifexis “has been rigorously tested and approved as safe by the U.S. FDA, the European Medicines Agency and many other countries around the world.”
Cohn, in his letter, said the drug safety story “focused on the risks but fails to recognize the value of these products in protecting our pets from life-threatening diseases.”
“The reality is that approved veterinary drugs save thousands of pets’ lives while providing them a better quality of life,” he wrote. “All human and animal medications have the potential to cause an adverse event; however, the FDA’s scrutiny and tracking, and corporate research processes, are all designed to minimize these risks while providing medications that treat, cure and manage serious illnesses.”
In a story headlined “Drug Companies Spend Millions to Court Vets,” The Indianapolis Star reported how drug manufacturers hand out prizes, meals and other giveaways at events such as the annual AVMA convention.
“Veterinarians are the most important player for your pet’s health but also for the drug makers,” the newspaper told readers. “And drug makers are spending lavishly, often out of sight, to gain their loyalty.”
The story explained how veterinary drug makers, unlike pharmaceutical and medical-device companies on the human side, are not required to disclose their gifting and payments.
The Indianapolis Star reported that AVMA benefits from the sale of convention sponsorships, or partnerships. Companies such as Zoetis Inc., Bayer Animal Health and Elanco are able to “enhance continuing education and professional development opportunities” at prices ranging from $25,000 to more than $200,000, the newspaper reported.
“While you tried to paint a picture of veterinarians being beholden to pharmaceutical companies for monetary gain, you failed to cite even one specific case of impropriety or lack of professionalism,” Cohn wrote in response. “The same can be said for your suggestions that the AVMA annual convention ‘revealed just one of the many ways corporate money influences pet health care … threatening the objectivity of those prescribing drugs to your dog or cat.’
“Like every business, veterinarians must make a profit to stay in business, but to suggest that a profit motive would compromise our professional judgment without any supporting evidence is simply irresponsible,” Cohn added. “As a private practitioner myself, I can assure your readers that such allegations of impropriety are simply not true.”
The final story, published Sunday, looked at how pet owners who cherish the human-animal bond tend to spend more on veterinary care and explored how they receive very little or no compensation if something goes wrong with a drug or veterinary care.
Cohn said the newspaper “provided a very one-sided perspective on the issue of noneconomic damages.”
“Allowing noneconomic damages could provide a financial windfall for a few pet owners and their lawyers, but they would also raise the cost of veterinary care for all pet owners,” he wrote. “We feel that state licensing bodies have ample authority to regulate the rare case of substandard care without making the cost of care unaffordable to many pet owners. “
The letter called on veterinarians to visit “the newspaper’s website and Facebook page to share your thoughts about the articles.”
“You can also submit letters to the editor via the paper’s website,” Cohn added.
He finished by alerting veterinarians that Reuters, a news agency, may publish “another story with a similar focus and tone sometime over the next several days.”
“We can assure you that we will be following the story and that we will keep you updated on it and respond appropriately in an effort to best represent the interests of our members and to support the veterinary profession,” Cohn stated.