Unanswered Ethics Questions of Physicians Against Drug Shortages Co-Chair Leads to Inquiry to Board’s Complaint Unit

Yesterday, we sent a letter to the Medical Board of California that details our transparency concerns about one of its licensees —John G. Brock-Utne, M.D., PhD. We’re concerned about how Dr. Brock-Utne failed to disclose more than $48,000 in fees from drug and medical device companies while espousing views in a medical society publication that could benefit certain drug and medical device companies.

Brock-Utne is affiliated with Stanford University’s Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital and is a Professor (Clinical) of Anesthesia, Emeritus at Stanford Medicine’s Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine. He is also a co-chair of Physicians Against Drug Shortages (PADS). Letters to Stanford President Dr. Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Dr. Ronald G. Pearl, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology, about this matter, have gone unanswered as of today.

Since October 2018, after receiving a tip, we’ve been looking into an organization called Physicians Against Drug Shortages (PADS) and its media campaign against group purchasing organizations (GPOs). On PADS’s website, the group’s members claim to be involved pro-bono, cover their own expenses and have no financial interest in this issue, but our investigation has found that six co-chairs received a total of $122,454 from medical device and drug companies over five years. One of those co-chairs is Dr. Brock-Utne.

PADS members, co-chairs and staff are dealing with other major conflicts as well. A Virginia-based company founded by another PADS co-chair, Eric Edward, has been the subject of both a U.S. Senate investigation and a recent 60 Minutes exposé and the group’s executive director, Phillip Zweig, received 30,000 stock options from a medical device company. However, the group’s members have not disclosed these financial ties in any of their commentary published in mainstream and healthcare trade media outlets.

Part of a Troubling, National Trend

In New York, Dr. José Baselga resigned last year from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the boards of three drug and equipment makers after he failed to accurately disclose payments from health care companies in dozens of research articles. A New York Times-ProPublica story reported:

“Baselga’s disclosure lapses have prompted a broader discussion over the influence of the drug and health care industries…Teaching hospitals across the country have reminded faculty members of their obligation to disclose, and some have begun re-examining which relationships are appropriate.”

Has Stanford Medical School reminded their faculty members of the obligation to disclose? Why is the Stanford Industry Interactions Policy not being enforced?

You may read our letter to the Medical Board of California by clicking on the image below or HERE.

Declaring Conflicts of Interest

Several years ago, Dr. Brock-Utne co-authored an article for the California Society of Anesthesiologists in which he and his co-author argued for disclosure by physicians speaking at industry sponsored events:

“[T]he speaker should always declare any conflict of interest prior to the lecture starts. At any such lecture or meeting, it is important that attendees be sensitive to the interpretations of endorsements.”

Speakers “should always declare any conflict of interest,” he declares. Dr. Brock-Utne’s comments in the California Society of Anesthesiologists article seem to contradict his lack of disclosure about potential conflicts of interest in his Bulletin article.

Yesterday, we received a notice from the Medical Board of California that it has received our letter and that “An Enforcement Analyst will be assigned to review your complaint.”

We’ll keep our readers updated.


Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.


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