The Boston Globe

By James Vaznis

June 10, 2008

Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital have launched an investigation into three psychiatrists whom US Senator Charles E. Grassley has accused of not fully disclosing payments they received from drug companies and are reviewing procedures for researchers to disclose potential conflicts of interest.

Grassley, Republican of Iowa, introduced documentation into the Congressional Record last week that indicates the three psychiatrists – Joseph Biederman, Timothy E. Wilens, and Thomas Spencer – might have violated federal and university conflict-of-interest rules by failing to indicate on disclosure forms the full amounts they received from drug makers.

The three psychiatrists, who also work at Mass. General and receive federal money for pharmaceutical research, initially said they earned a few hundred thousand dollars over a seven-year period from drug companies, but when pressed by Grassley, they later admitted to receiving between $1 million and $1.6 million, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The three doctors have conducted extensive research in child psychiatry, which in some cases has ultimately advocated for the use of certain medicines, not yet approved, in children, the Times reported.

“We take this issue seriously and will do all we can to ensure it is resolved fairly and equitably for all parties involved,” Harvard Medical School said in a statement.

The dean of the school has referred the cases to the university’s Standing Committee on Conflicts of Interest and Commitment, which is in charge of reviewing policy compliance, the statement said.

The university did not indicate how long the review might take.

“Based on the review, the standing committee will forward its findings and recommendations to the office of the dean for any further action that may be appropriate,” the statement said.

More broadly, the medical school will participate in a universitywide review of conflict-of-interest policies. That process will include conducting in-depth interviews with randomly selected faculty members about their disclosure forms.

The goal would be to attempt to gauge any pattern or a lack of clarity on the forms about conflict of interest or any ambiguity in the university’s policy.

Biederman, Wilens, and Spencer said in written statements last night that they believed they had complied with the conflict-of-interest rules at their institutions.

Mass. General, which is coordinating its review with the medical school, will also conduct a separate review to determine compliance with the hospital’s policies, including one governing federally funded research, the hospital said.

The hospital said that its policies are in compliance with the National Institutes of Health, the government’s medical research agency, and that the cases do not appear to trigger any kind of reporting requirement.