Boston Business Journal
by Eric Convey
July 1, 2011

Massachusetts General Hospital on Friday disclosed sanctions against three psychiatrists for violating hospital ethics guidelines by failing to adequately report, internally, seven-figure payments they received from drug companies.

In a statement to colleagues provided by the hospital upon request from the Business Journal, Drs. Joseph Biederman, Thomas Spencer and Timothy Wilens said the disciplinary actions include:

• They must refrain from “all industry-sponsored outside activities” for one year.

• For two years after the ban ends, they must obtain permission from Mass. General and Harvard Medical School before engaging in any industry-sponsored, paid outside activities and then must report back afterward.

• They must undergo certain training.

• They face delays before being considered for “promotion or advancement.”

The three doctors came under the political microscope in June 2008 during remarks Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, made to a committee investigating conflicts of interest involving clinicians.

The three Harvard doctors “are some of the top psychiatrists in the country, and their research is some of the most important in the field,” Grassley said, according to an online version of the Congressional record. “They have also taken millions of dollars from the drug companies.” The senator complained that Biederman and Wilens took money from drug giant Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) at the same time they were being paid by the National Institutes of Health to study an Eli Lilly drug.

Grassley went on to say he had requested conflict-of-interest forms from the hospitals, and they “were a mess.”

“My staff had a hard time figuring out which companies the doctors were consulting for and how much money they were making,” he said.

When the hospitals asked the doctors to clarify the matter, Grassley continued, “things got interesting.”

“Dr. Biederman suddenly admitted to over $1.6 million dollars from the drug companies,” Grassley said. “And Dr. Spencer also admitted to over $1 million. Meanwhile, Dr. Wilens also reported over $1.6 million in payments from the drug companies.”

“We have learned a great deal from (the in-house investigation),” the doctors wrote in their joint statement released Friday. “And we profoundly hope that our mistakes will benefit our colleagues by bringing clarity and attention to these important issues.”

They wrote earlier in the letter: “We always believed that we were complying in good faith with the institutional policies and that our mistakes were honest ones.”

In its own statement, the hospital wrote: “A committee at Massachusetts General Hospital that has been looking into conflict-of-interest questions involving three MGH child psychiatrists has completed its review. Appropriate remedial actions have been taken by the hospital to address specific issues.”