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Abbott, Arbiter & Avoidance

When I do an interview with a clinical trial investigator I typically try to take care of what I call the "housekeeping" at the beginning or end.

"Do you have any financial disclosures or conflicts? How much money, if any, have you received from the company that paid for the study or whose drug was tested? Did you donate the money to charity or keep it? Do you own stock in any of the companies involved?" Et cetera.

With increased attention being paid to such potential conflicts and disclosures, nearly all of the docs I've talked to have been prepared to answer those questions.

Some of the drug companies have recently started posting their financial relationships with physicians and academicians on the Web. Others are planning to do so in the near future.

So, I was surprised to encounter a certain amount of pushback and what I view as an insufficient level of disclosure in the lead-up to my coverage yesterday of the Arbiter (Zetia vs. Niaspan, Merck vs. Abbott) study.

Last Friday, I put an embargoed, taped interview "in the can" with study leader Dr. Allen Taylor. (We ended up using a different researcher, Dr. Mark Turco, in our on-air coverage on Monday morning for other reasons that are a blog topic for another day.)

Anyway, Dr. Taylor cited American College of Cardiology standards that classify payments of more than $10,000 from a company as "significant." "How much more than 10-grand?" I asked. He wouldn't say. I pressed him on it, but Dr. Taylor wouldn't budge. He shook his head and said, "I'm not sure why we're going down that line."

Two days later at the hastily called American Heart Association press conference to deal with the Arbiter embargo breakI asked him the same question again. I think I was respectful, professional and direct. He gave me the same answer.

We also repeatedly asked Abbott to tell us how much it has paid Dr. Taylor. This afternoon a spokesperson told me, "We're not in a position right now to provide the exact number."

Was it $11,000? Closer to $50,000? Six figures? Who knows? If it's a high number I bet Merck would love to have that arrow in its PR-quiver. And, by the way, did I mention MRK sent a small army of PR folks to AHA?

If you're doing a study, especially one that is the focus of intense scrutiny and criticism regarding a multi-billion dollar drug franchise, then you should be ready to be forthcoming and open about your full financial relationship with the company that sponsored the clinical trial. Dr. Taylor came up with the idea to do this study and then got Abbott to pay for it.

Larry Husten calls me out on his blog, "Cardio Brief,"for being a "wild animal" and for asking the "self-congratulating" question about Dr. Taylor's financial ties at Sunday's press conference.

On his blog, he also posted a photo of the Taylor family apparently because they had to cut short their trip to Disney's Animal Kingdom in order for the doctor to rush back to the convention center to put out the Arbiter embargo fire.

That's an interesting little nugget.

P.S. Mr. Husten also blew the whistle on a tweet I sent out Sunday evening.

I was announcing that the AHA and "The New England Journal of Medicine" were lifting the Arbiter media embargo a day early. Today, NEJM sent me an email slapping me on the wrist and informing me that my tweet violated policy.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com and follow me on Twitter at mhuckman