One of the messages that I have taken away from the European Association of Urology meeting in Vienna, is the increasing complexity of treatment options for advanced prostate cancer.  However, I have equally come away with the impression that company sponsored sessions is not the right way to provide continuing medical education (CME), if not done in an independent way.  

There are 28 industry symposia at EAU in Vienna, each sponsored by one company.  That’s a lot! Of the sessions I have been too, all have prominently featured the company logo, name or some form of branding on the invitations, slides and meeting materials.  If you want more information afterwards, the pharma company (not any CME provider), will contact you. 

What’s more the slides presented are all in a similar format no doubt having been prepared by the company’s agency, and the content appears to have been carefully scripted to focus on the company’s product. 

So when sanofi-aventis at their symposia talk about prostate cancer and discuss one patient, it should come as no surprise that the patient ended up on cabazitaxel, and the only clinical trial data presented in any great detail was, you guessed it, for cabazitaxel.  “You can start using it tomorrow in your practice” was the underlying message.

The key opinion leaders (KOLs) at these sponsored meetings focus their messages where they have no doubt been directed. “In my hands cabazitaxel is well tolerated.”   It’s been fun to watch the same KOL turn up at different symposia, and focus his messaging on a different product each time.  A paid advocate for one product does not take his advocacy with him to another company’s symposia!

While I don’t doubt that the information each company presents is technically and factually accurate, it’s clear that the experienced KOLs know not to bite the hand that feeds and play the game. But should doctors have to attend multiple symposia to work out how to put the pieces of the jigsaw together?

The model I have seen at United States medical meetings where a topic is focused on, and sponsoring companies have no role in writing the slides, selecting the KOLs or scripting it, is far superior.  Fair balance and independence for CME activities are what doctors deserve in a promotional world. 

The challenge of quasi-promotional symposia such as the ones I have attended in Vienna, is that doctors can’t rely on the company sponsored session to help them understand how to view competing or different treatment options. As advanced prostate cancer becomes more complex, the need for independent CME becomes increasingly important.  European physicians should insist on nothing less.