Sunday, June 8, 2008

Psychiatrists on the Dole,
This Time At Harvard...

Fight fiercely, Harvard, fight, fight, fight!
Impress them with our prowess, do!
Oh, fellas, do not let the crimson down,
Be of stout heart and true.
Tom (of Lehrer) - 1945

Mr. B. is an admirer of Charles Grassley. Last night at Mrs. B.'s birthday celebration at the Birchwood, he mentioned Grassley and someone at another table immediately started a conversation about the Senator from Iowa. Since people from Minnesota generally look down their noses at Iowans, and vice versa, this was unusual.

The senator and Mr. B. share some interests, such as making universities a little more responsible with their endowments, avoiding conflicts of interest, and making education affordable to all citizens. Senator Grassley has a much bigger stick than Mr. B. and he has been making good use of it lately.

For background on some of Senator Grassley's recent targets, see:

Troubles At The Big House
Senator Charles Grassley Goes After Dr. Zerhouni, NIH Chief

And a short piece about university endowments and how, perhaps, a little of this booty - say at least 5% annually - should be used to make tution affordable:

U Endowment Reaches 2.8 Billion (That's with a B...)

Today, Mr. B's favorite blogger, UD, mentions Senator Grassley's latest activities approvingly, citing a NYT article.

From the NYT:

A world-renowned Harvard child psychiatrist whose work has helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful antipsychotic medicines in children earned at least $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007 but for years did not report much of this income to university officials, according to information given Congressional investigators.

By failing to report income, the psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph Biederman, and a colleague in the psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Timothy E. Wilens, may have violated federal and university research rules designed to police potential conflicts of interest, according to Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa. Some of their research is financed by government grants.

Like Dr. Biederman, Dr. Wilens belatedly reported earning at least $1.6 million from 2000 to 2007, and another Harvard colleague, Dr. Thomas Spencer, reported earning at least $1 million after being pressed by Mr. Grassley’s investigators. But even these amended disclosures may understate the researchers’ outside income because some entries contradict payment information from drug makers, Mr. Grassley found.

In one example, Dr. Biederman reported no income from Johnson & Johnson for 2001 in a disclosure report filed with the university. When asked to check again, he said he received $3,500. But Johnson & Johnson told Mr. Grassley that it paid him $58,169 in 2001, Mr. Grassley found.

Alyssa Kneller, a Harvard spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement: “The information released by Senator Grassley suggests that, in certain instances, each doctor may have failed to disclose outside income from pharmaceutical companies and other entities that should have been disclosed.”

Ms. Kneller said the doctors had been referred to a university conflict committee for review.

Mr. Grassley sent letters on Wednesday to Harvard and the health institutes outlining his investigators’ findings, and he placed the letters along with his comments in The Congressional Record.

Universities ask professors to report their conflicts but do almost nothing to verify the accuracy of these voluntary disclosures.

“It’s really been an honor system thing,” said Dr. Robert Alpern, dean of Yale School of Medicine. “If somebody tells us that a pharmaceutical company pays them $80,000 a year, I don’t even know how to check on that.”

Some states have laws requiring drug makers to disclose payments made to doctors, and Mr. Grassley and others have sponsored legislation to create a national registry.

Mr. Grassley said these discrepancies demonstrated profound flaws in the oversight of researchers’ financial conflicts and the need for a national registry. But the disclosures may also cloud the work of one of the most prominent group of child psychiatrists in the world.

“The price we pay for these kinds of revelations is credibility, and we just can’t afford to lose any more of that in this field,” said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute, which finances psychiatric studies. “In the area of child psychiatry in particular, we know much less than we should, and we desperately need research that is not influenced by industry money.”

Now Minnesota was one of the first states to require that pharmaceutical companies disclose the amount of money given to docs.

For an introduction to this mess, see:

Minnesota Doctors on the Dole Or,
I bought the Mercedes Because It Had Airbags

At Minnesota the psychiatrists also seem to be the big winners. This hit the blogosphere earlier and seems to be a junior version of the Harvard situation.

The scale factor relating the problems at Harvard and Minnesota is no doubt a function of endowment size.

1 comment:

momo said...

*chanting* culture of corruption! culture of corruption!