March 4

Sen. Grassley to Pfizer: Provide Details of $$ to Harvard MedicalFaculty

Despite the fact that Harvard Medical School rules say that students on campus are supposed to be off-limits to drug company representatives, Harvard University did not initiate action against acts of intimidation against its own medical students!  

But a New York Times report (below) about a Pfizer snooper who took pictures of Harvard Medical School students who demonstrated against faculty conflicts of interest, Sen. Charles Grassley took action: he sent a letter to Pfizer asking the company to provide details of its payments to at least 149 faculty members at Harvard Medical School.

Pfizer spokesman: "We've got top-class collaboration in place with leading medical institutions around the world, and we're very proud of them."
Those collaborations may have been good for Pfizer, but they have corrupted academic medicine, the integrity of medical research, and ultimately, medical practice.

Those collaborations have even resulted in Harvard Medical School students being subjected to intimidation by a Pfizer representative who photographed them.

Shame on Harvard for failing enforce its rules to protect its students.

Vera Hassner Sharav

March 4, 2009
Senator Asks Pfizer About Harvard Payments

Senator Charles E. Grassley on Tuesday asked the drug maker Pfizer to provide details of its payments to at least 149 faculty members at Harvard Medical School.
The senator, an Iowa Republican who is investigating the drug industry’s influence on the practice of medicine, also asked for any Pfizer e-mail, faxes, letters or photos regarding Harvard medical students who have protested drug company influence.

Mr. Grassley, in a letter to Pfizer, wrote that he was “greatly disturbed” to read an article in The New York Times on Tuesday describing a Pfizer representative taking cellphone photographs of the medical students last October at a campus demonstration against industry influence. “I find this troubling as I have documented several instances where pharmaceutical companies have attempted to intimidate academic critics of drugs,” he wrote.

The request for information about Pfizer payments to Harvard Medical faculty members in the last two years expands Mr. Grassley’s investigation of industry payments to three Harvard psychiatrists who had promoted antipsychotic medicines for children. According to records Mr. Grassley obtained from drug companies, the professors were accused of not properly reporting at least $4.2 million in payments from 2000 to 2007. One of them has been suspended from conducting clinical trials. The investigation continues.

A Pfizer spokesman said on Tuesday that the company “will fully cooperate with Senator Grassley’s request for information.” The spokesman, Ray Kerins, said Pfizer regrets if the photograph taken by the sales representative “was offensive to anyone involved,” but believes the company has acted legally and ethically and that collaboration with medical schools is “a valuable source of innovation and scientific advancement.”

David Cameron, spokesman for Harvard Medical School, said in an e-mail message, “We are unable to provide comment on this matter."
Mr. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, asked Pfizer to provide details of faculty payments since Jan. 1, 2007, and communications regarding the students since Jan. 1, 2008, to be delivered to him by next Wednesday.

At the October demonstration, which involved about 50 Harvard Medical students and was sponsored by the American Medical Student Association, some protesters saw a man photographing them with a cellphone. He later identified himself as a Pfizer representative but did not give his name. David Tian, one of the students, photographed the man and said he worried that the man had been sending photos to Pfizer.

Mr. Kerins said recently that the man had told him the photos were for the man’s personal use. Mr. Kerins said the man, whom he declined to name, had done nothing improper. Harvard policy prohibits drug representatives from interacting with students on the medical campus but does not bar them from the campus or from taking photographs.

The dean of the medical school, Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier, recently appointed a 19-member committee to review the school’s financial conflict of interest policies. Its first meeting, which will not be public, is planned for Thursday.

The American Medical Student Association, in a national survey of medical schools last year, gave the Harvard Medical School an F grade for how well it controlled drug company payments to faculty members. Dr. Flier said Harvard deserved an “incomplete” rather than an F because it had not submitted paperwork to the association. But the students said they had based their grade on Harvard’s published policies.

The Times reported Tuesday that Harvard officials had said about 1,600 of the medical school’s 8,900 professors and lecturers informed the dean that they or a relative had a financial interest in a business related to their teaching, research or clinical care. The faculty disclosures do not specify how much money they receive, nor are they public.

March 3, 2009
Pfizer Worker Photographed Protesters at Harvard

Harvard Medical School’s rules say that students on campus are supposed to be off-limits to drug company representatives.

That is why David Tian, a first-year Harvard medical student, said he found it “strange and off-putting” last fall when a man who identified himself as a Pfizer employee took a cellphone photo of students as they demonstrated against pharmaceutical industry influence on campus. “We could only assume he intended to share this with his company,” Mr. Tian said.

The students did not get the man’s name, but they took his picture.

Asked about the mysterious Pfizer man on campus and shown his picture, a company spokesman said he had recently contacted the employee and concluded that he had done nothing wrong. Declining to name him, the spokesman, Ray Kerins, said the employee had photographed the students for personal use.

Mr. Kerins preferred to talk about Pfizer’s support of the medical school, which, according to Harvard officials, includes private payments to at least 149 faculty members, corporate donations of $350,000 to the school last year, $234,000 for continuing medical education classes, and two Pfizer-financed research projects on campus.

“We’ve got top-class collaboration in place with leading medical institutions around the world, and we’re very proud of them,” Mr. Kerins said.

Whatever the unidentified Pfizer representative was up to, Mr. Tian and other students said they saw him again two weeks after the campus protest, at a public lecture on campus about conflicts of interest in medical research.

Drug industry employees are “all over the place,” the lecturer, Dr. Catherine D. DeAngelis, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, said last week. “It’s a free country,” she said. “I’m not hiding anything. Maybe they’ll even listen to what I say and think about what they’re doing.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

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