How much influence does Big Pharma have at Harvard Medical School?
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Is it right for professors at Harvard Medical School to own stock in or accept speaking fees from pharmaceutical companies? Boston Magazine reports on the ongoing debate on campus, which reflects a national debate over the relationship between drug companies and med schools. (The Harvard situation was also covered by The New York Times earlier this year.)
The topic has been a hot one at Harvard since the revelation in summer 2008 that a child psychiatrist on the faculty had taken more than $1.6 million in payments from the maker of an antipsychotic drug he’d been prescribing.
On one side of the intramural debate is Dr. Marcia Angell, a former New England Journal of Medicine editor-in-chief who says doctors “should have no financial interest in companies whose products they are evaluating.” Taking the opposite view is Dr. Tom Stossel (brother of TV journalist John Stossel) who, according to the Boston Magazine article, “traces improvement in Americans’ health directly to breakthroughs funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Limit doctors’ interactions with that industry, he argues, and you limit the power of the market to drive innovation.”
Harvard Medical School has a conflict of interest policy that allows doctors on the faculty to own up to $30,000 of stock in publicly-traded companies that are in businesses related to their specialties and to take up to $20,000 a year in speaking and consulting fees. And gifts to faculty from Big Pharma, such as meals, tickets and travel, are not limited. Angell argues that faculty should be forbidden to own stock or accept fees and that pharmaceutical representatives should not be allowed on campus.
Angell has plenty of support on campus. The Times article reported, “Harvard students have already secured a requirement that all professors and lecturers disclose their industry ties in class—a blanket policy that has been adopted by no other leading medical school.”
That same article quoted first-year medical student David Tian:
Before coming here, I had no idea how much influence companies had on medical education. And it’s something that’s purposely meant to be under the table, providing information under the guise of education when that information is also presented for marketing purposes.