February 11

Eli Lilly Exec Heads to Harvard Medical School

Lest anyone had illusions about the nature of a new policy (still under development) that is to guide interactions between Harvard Medical School faculty and the drug industry, the Boston Globel reports that Dr. William Chin, Eli Lilly’s senior VP for "discovery and clinical research" is to assume "a newly created job" at Harvard Medical School.

So much for pronouncements by Harvard about taking steps to distance medicine and medical research from the influence of Big Pharma.

As Dr. Arnold S. Relman, professor emeritus of medicine and social medicine at Harvard, who is a former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, notes, "Does this appointment signify that Harvard Medical School intends to even further strengthen its research ties to the pharmaceutical industry?"

The revolving door between Harvard Medical School faculty and Eli Lilly executives is an example of sheer arrogance and a stunning disregard for public opinion–as is the comment by the dean of medical and translational research:
"We hired Bill to knock down those blocks. Bill Chin only cares about our patients and their families. It’s not about the drug companies, it’s about people with illness." .
Dr. Chin was a professor of medicine at Harvard before he joined Lilly in 1999. He received his medical training entirely from Harvard–including his MD, residency (at Beth Israel), and a fellowship in endocrinology and metabolism (at Mass. General).

During his tenure at Lilly, the company (admittedly) engaged in criminal marketing of this drug for unapproved, off-label use in children and the elderly. The concealed risks, buried in company documents, were brought to public light only through litigation!

Given his superior training and expertise in endocrinology and metabolism, surely Dr. Chin, VP for "discovery and clinical research" should have recognized the enormous endocrine and metabolic risk posed by Lilly’s drug, Zyprexa (olanzapine).

One cannot but observe the contrast between how a company, like Toyota, accepts responsibility for failing to promptly recall defective cars:

Toyota Motor Corp’s president apologized on Friday for safety problems and said the automaker would bring in outside experts to review quality controls:
"I would like to take this opportunity to apologize from the bottom of my heart for causing many of our customers concern after the recalls across several models in several regions," Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota’s founder, told a news conference in Nagoya, Japan.

In sharp contrast, Eli Lilly never apologized for having concealed for more than a decade the safety hazards linked to Zyprexa, a drug that induced diabetes and other  debilitating diseases–and resulted in thousands of preventable deaths. After the evidence was brought to light through the onerous process of litigation, Lilly agreed to numerous cash settlements –including $1.4 billion in the criminal off-label marketing case brought by the U.S. Justice Department:

However, in line with the pharmaceutical industry’s disregard for consumer safety, the company never apologized to the public neither for its immoral nor illegal actions.

 Vera Hassner Sharav


Harvard criticized for hiring drug exec to oversee research
by Elizabeth Cooney February 10, 2010 

At a juncture when medical schools and hospitals across the country are developing policies to minimize the potential influence of the drug industry on medicine and medical education, Harvard Medical School has appointed a new research chief who spent the last 10 years at a pharmaceutical company. A critic of drug company ties to medicine called the move "puzzling," but a Harvard dean said skills from both academia and industry are needed.

Dr. William W. Chin will become executive dean for research, the medical school said today. In the newly created position, he will have oversight of biomedical research at the school and work with Harvard-affiliated hospitals as well as Harvard University on strategic scientific planning.

Chin will come to Harvard on May 1 from Eli Lilly and Co., where he is senior vice president for discovery research and clinical investigation. He joined Lilly in 1999 after 25 years on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. A molecular endocrinologist, he graduated from Harvard Medical School and trained at Beth Israel Hospital and  Massachusetts General Hospital.

"There are very few people capable of rising to such a challenge," Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School, wrote in a letter to the Harvard community released with the announcement.

While Chin is a highly qualified scientist,  his appointment is "puzzling," said Dr. Arnold S. Relman. He is professor emeritus of medicine and of social medicine at Harvard and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Does this appointment signify that Harvard Medical School intends to even further strengthen its research ties to the pharmaceutical industry?" Relman said in an interview. "If so, I think many people will worry that the separate roles for academic medicine and drug companies are becoming more confused, leading to more conflicts of interest."

Harvard is developing a new policy to guide interactions between researchers and the drug industry.

Dr. Lee Nadler, dean of clinical and translational research at the medical school,  called Chin, whom he met in 1969 when he was a first-year medical student, "except for Jeff Flier, the most important recruit to Harvard Medical School"  because he will bring skills from the two worlds of academic medicine and industry.

"As opposed to what Dr. Relman says, he learned what it takes to move basic science to impact patients," Nadler said in an interview. "We hired Bill to knock down those blocks. Bill Chin only cares about our patients and their families. It’s not about the drug companies, it’s about people with illness."


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