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A good summary of the medical school conflict of interest story so far…

…from Science Magazine. Excerpts:

The end result [of Senator Charles Grassley’s investigation and proposed legislation] is expected to vastly expand the information that faculty — both basic and clinical — must report to their institutions and to NIH. And it will likely ask for more details on how institutions follow up on conflicts.

… The issue exploded in the media a year ago thanks to Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. The 75-year-old Midwesterner, a longtime fraud buster, started out investigating defense contracts. In recent years, Grassley, citing his committee’s oversight of Medicare and Medicaid, began probing conflicts of interest involving the approval of drugs such as Paxil and Vioxx.

In 2007, these probes led Grassley’s investigators to conflicts of interest at biomedical research institutions. Using a strategy that had worked well in an inquiry by the House of Representatives, they asked both companies and institutions about payments to a faculty member and looked for discrepancies. Grassley says they got leads from media reports and “whistleblowers” such as critical faculty members.

Grassley’s team made its first big splash with a front-page story in The New York Times last June. They alleged that three Harvard child psychiatrists had failed to report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income they received over several years from drug companies. Other psychiatrists and surgeons have since been accused of hiding similar payments, and some have been disciplined…

… No rule is universally obeyed, of course, and scientists could still hide their income. Many of those Grassley has probed allegedly were not following existing rules. The remedy for that, many observers say, is a public database of payments reported by companies — such as one that would be created by the bill introduced by Grassley and Senator Herbert Kohl (D–WI), potentially by October 2011. University officials could use the database to audit their faculty members, say AAMC and AAU, which support the bill…

Margaret Soltan, July 5, 2009 5:48PM
Posted in: conflict of interest

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