WASHINGTON - Harvard University is at the centre of an academic and political scandal after three prominent members of its psychiatry department were accused of breaking conflict-of-interest rules by failing to declare millions of dollars in consulting fees from drugs manufacturers.
An investigation by Senator Charles E Grassley uncovered evidence that Dr Joseph Biederman, a world-renowned child psychiatrist who helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful antipsychotic medicines, neglected to tell university officials that he had earned at least $1.6m (£810,000) from pharmaceutical companies that make them.
Two of Dr Biederman's colleagues, Dr Timothy E Wilens and Dr Thomas Spencer, also allegedly violated federal and academic rules by concealing outside income from the drugs industry of $1.6m and $1m respectively. Senator Grassley, a Republican, had discovered that data about consulting fees disclosed by the academics differed sharply from payment information held by drugs companies.
In one example, Dr Biederman, whose work is held responsible for a 40-fold increase in the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, claimed in an annual report to the university that he received no income from Johnson & Johnson in 2001. When Senator Grassley queried this figure, he confessed to receiving $3,500. The company says Dr Biederman was paid $58,169 that year, a discrepancy that remained unexplained last night.
The relationship between the Harvard academics and drug companies is highly controversial because their research has advocated the use of previously unapproved psychiatric medicines in children. The university began a formal investigation yesterday into their outside earnings.
"The information released by Senator Grassley suggests that, in certain instances, each doctor may have failed to disclose outside information ... that should have been referred," read a statement by the university published by The New York Times, which revealed details of the affair.
Dr Biederman said he took conflict of interest policies very seriously, adding: "My interests are solely in the advancement of medical treatment through rigorous and objective study." Dr Wilens and Dr Spencer said they thought they had complied with the rules.
© 2008 The Independent