Of the 53 National Cancer Institute (NCI)’s physician cancer center directors listed in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid’s Open Payments database in 2017, 49% (23 directors) received payment from pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Of those who received industry compensation, 19 (36%) received more than $5000.

Although 12 (23%) of the directors receiving payments got them for research, a different group of 12 directors had payments not related to research that exceeded $5000; the threshold that the NCI has designated as the financial cap before nonresearch payments are considered a “significant financial interest.”

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Further, of the 12 people who received nonresearch payments during the study period, 2 directors received more than $50,000 — and one individual was awarded $2.27 million as compensation for services other than consulting (consulting is usually cited as the explanation for many large nonresearch payments).

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“Our findings raise the question of whether industry payments to the directors of publicly supported institutions, such as NCI-designated cancer centers, serve the public interest,” the researchers wrote. “Policy makers — and the public — should consider whether such payments should be allowed, limited (eg, to <$5000 a year), or eliminated.”

A limitation of the study that the authors acknowledged is that compensation information for PhD-level directors who do not also have their MD would not be included in the database, which only logs payment information for certain providers. In 2017, there were 16 such nonphysician directors heading up NCI-designated cancer centers.

Carr, D, Welch HG. Industry payments to physician directors of National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers, 2015-2017 [published online August 5, 2019]. JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.3098