Apparently Charles Nemeroff, Chair of the Psychiatry Department at Emory University, does not think so. I was a little shocked at the news partly because these days I am reading the classic psychopharmacology textbook that he co-authored with Alan Schatzberg and finding it quite eye-opening. But nothing in the book opened my eyes wider than this piece of news from the NYT:
One of the nation’s most influential psychiatrists earned more than $2.8 million in consulting arrangements with drug makers from 2000 to 2007, failed to report at least $1.2 million of that income to his university and violated federal research rules, according to documents provided to Congressional investigators.And why was disclosing this windfall deathly important for Dr. Nemeroff? Well, because:
The psychiatrist, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff of Emory University, is the most prominent figure to date in a series of disclosures that is shaking the world of academic medicine and seems likely to force broad changes in the relationships between doctors and drug makers.
In one telling example, Dr. Nemeroff signed a letter dated July 15, 2004, promising Emory administrators that he would earn less than $10,000 a year from GlaxoSmithKline to comply with federal rules. But on that day, he was at the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo., earning $3,000 of what would become $170,000 in income that year from that company — 17 times the figure he had agreed on.
Dr. Nemeroff was the principal investigator for a five-year $3.9 million grant financed by the National Institute of Mental Health for which GlaxoSmithKline provided drugs.So Nemeroff was on an NIH grant that involved using GSK drugs, and was getting paid princely sums by GSK at the same time. It's hard to have a better definition of conflict of interest. And even in an age when the sum of 700 billion$ is being bandied around rather casually, 2.8 million$ is still a lot of money.
It also does not seem to be the first time that he has blurred the line. In 2006 he seems to have stepped down from the editor's position of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology when he published an article using a device whose manufacturer was paying him. As detailed above, he also had had an incident with Emory in 2004 when he promised not to make too much money off his consulting. Dr. Nemeroff regularly gives talks in which he discusses the benefits of drugs like Paxil.
It's also interesting that some people suspect that Nemeroff may have had a hand in David Healy being denied his position at the University of Toronto. Healy has written a very interesting book called "Let them eat Prozac" which rather meticulously and candidly documents the alarming incidence of suicide attempts by patients on SSRIs. Apparently Healy faced a lot of hostility from the establishment and...surprise...from pharma when he tried to go public with these findings. It's all disturbing.
I really hope Emory takes some drastic action against what seems to be a repeated violation of some extremely important and time-honored guidelines of research. It's getting uncomfortable, and fingers are being pointed at the school for not noticing this and taking action earlier. The sooner the university acts, the better it can save face and avoid embarrassment.
But the gnawing questions remain. Since the line between a productive and honest and unholy academic-corporate nexus seems to be thin indeed, who regulates such collaborations and how can they do this? Sadly we know all too well who pays.
Other links: The Carlat Psychiatry Blog, University Diaries, Pharmalot