Archive for March, 2009

Medical Schools, Healthcare, and Big Pharma

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Who would have believed that Harvard Medical School could be contaminated by Big Pharma? The New York Times recently reported on the front of their business page that a Professor of Pharmacology  displayed suspicious bias by belittling one of his students who asked about the possible side effects of a cholesterol lowering drug. This led to an online search by one of the students who discovered that the professor, a full-time member of the Harvard medical faculty, was also a paid consultant to 10 drug companies.

According to the Times article,  this episode grew into a “full-blown student and faculty movement investigating and exposing the drug industry’s influence at Harvard and 17 affiliated institutions.” The students and allied faculty members claim that Harvard should be embarrassed by the American Medical Student Association who gave the renowned institution an F grade for their poor management in monitoring the receipt of money received from drug companies.  It should be added that other top notch medical schools received much higher grades, for example, the University of  Pennsylvania received an A, Stanford, Columbia and New York University, B’s, and Yale a C.

The teaching hospitals of Harvard are privately owned, but not the medical school. Moreover, the previous dean served on a pharmaceutical company board. Dr. Jeffrey S. Slier, the new dean who wants to clean up the mess has recently announced the formation of a 19 member committee to reassess the school’s conflict of interest policies.

In the meantime the State of Massachusetts has passed a law effective July 1 requiring licensed physicians to disclose corporate gifts over $50, and the U.S. Senate is now investigating several prominent medical professors for ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

I have previously written on the politics of drug promotion in my newsletter, Second Opinions in the “Ties that Bind”   The monied tentacles of the pharmaceutical industry reach out to the entire health care archipelago. This includes some of our most prestigious medical journals, researchers, medical experts setting nationwide medical guidelines, professional associations, hospitals, and, of course practitioners.  It’s not at all surprising that medical schools are being influenced by drug industry money.

Equally shocking is the fact that the United States and New Zealand are the only countries in the world that permit the promotion and advertising of drugs to the general public via TV and the other media.