11 No. 3
December 2008/January 2009
Unraveling healthcare's knottiest problems
Researcher’s alleged transgressions lead to more ethics oversight
“Is it reasonable for [a patient] to be able to demand everything be done regardless of what that does to the healthcare system financially, or to its ability to serve a wider population?”
“I don’t think the main role of the ethicist is to tell people what’s right and wrong. One who does that in my opinion abdicates one’s responsibility.”
Medicine and Compassion
Reaching across the silos to teach the "art" of healing
Things I've learned while I couldn't do my research
Egypt and Emory
Small collection, large footprint
In early October, the New York Times reported that according to Congressional investigators, Charles Nemeroff, prominent Emory psychiatrist and researcher, had earned more than $2.8 million in consulting fees from drug companies from 2000 to 2007 but failed to report at least $1.2 million to Emory and violated federal research rules. Nemeroff has also been accused of not disclosing to Emory approximately $500,000 he received from drug maker GlaxoSmithKline while heading a government-funded research project studying Glaxo drugs. According to the investigators, Emory had reportedly instructed Nemeroff to accept no more than $10,000—the university’s conflicts threshold—but that he far exceeded that amount. The National Institutes of Health subsequently froze $9.3 million in funds for a study on depression led by Nemeroff and instituted tighter rules on its funding approvals for Emory.
Nemeroff has denied any wrongdoing and stepped down as chairman of the psychiatry department while Emory conducts its own internal investigation.
In a statement issued on October 8, Emory officials said that they “take this matter very seriously and are working diligently to determine whether our policies have been observed consistently with regard to the matters cited by Senator [Charles] Grassley,” whose office led the investigation. And on October 10, David Wynes, vice president for research administration, sent a letter to the Emory research community announcing that Emory had instituted more stringent disclosure requirements for research funded by the NIH.
In a statement in the October 12 Atlanta Journal Constitution, Emory president James Wagner vowed the school’s full cooperation with the Senate probe and stressed that Nemeroff deserves a full and fair review of the facts before conclusions are drawn. “It would be improper to judge Dr. Nemeroff guilty of anything based on allegations alone. So while we must move with deliberate speed in getting to the truth, we will not proceed with irresponsible haste,” he said. Wagner added that it is essential “to manage properly any conflicts of interest that might jeopardize the scientific validity of the results of collaborations between private industry and the academy” (full text at www.emory.edu/home/news/releases/2008/10/Wagner-Statement-on-Senate-research-investigation.html).
On October 14, Emory announced the formation of a university-wide central office to oversee administration and enforcement of conflict of interest policies. The new office will report to Wynes. Further, on November 3, Wagner appointed the President’s Adivsory Commission on Research Integrity and Professional Conflict Management to review policies and practices on conflicts of interest. Ethics center director Paul Wolpe is chairing the panel.
This is not the first time that Nemeroff’s relationship with industry has raised concerns. In a fourteen-page letter dated June 24, 2004, Claudia Adkison, executive associate dean for administration and faculty affairs at the medical school, warned Nemeroff to rectify substantial conflicts of interest the medical school had identified. In August 2006, Nemeroff resigned as editor of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology after he failed to disclose financial ties to a medical company whose device he had endorsed in the journal.
To read the Academic Exchange’s past coverage of conflict-of-interest issues, visit “Drugs and Money: Pharmaceutical companies, academic medicine, and the flow of funds and favors” (February/March 2007) at www.emory.edu/ACAD_EXCHANGE/2007/febmar/lead.html.