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Harvard Limits Conflicts with Big Pharma

Posted on July 26, 2010

During the past year, there have been embarrassing stories coming out of universities, some of them Ivy League, about medical doctors who are paid consultants for major pharmaceutical companies.

An article on Boston.com stated that Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa has uncovered many conflicts between academia and business, and Harvard and Emory physicians have reportedly broken the university rules for reporting the amount of money they have collected from Big Pharma. In some cases, the medical doctor is not just a spokesman for the company at gatherings of other doctors, but promotes the drug to patients, raising all kinds of ethical questions about conflict-of-interest.

Now Harvard University wants to tackle the bad public relations. Harvard Medical School has announced that its 11,000 faculty cannot take personal gifts, travel, and meals at ritzy spas and hotels in exchange for giving promotional talks on behalf of drug and medical device makers.

The university is taking a leadership position so that its image is not tarnished and Harvard is not used to market products. The new policy also requires university personnel to report any payment of at least $5,000. And Harvard says that a firewall will be erected concerning continuing education, often sponsored by industry.

Some doctors will find they make a lot less money at the end of the year. But others welcome not being perceived as salesmen for huge drug and device companies.

Doctors will still be allowed to conduct industry-sponsored research and even sit on the board of a drug or device maker. The bottom line is the patient should come first, not the latest drug or device. To promote a drug that later turns out to be dangerous while taking payments from the drug company, could be perceived as medical malpractice.