US university psychiatrist loses chairmanship over drug company paymentsBMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a3188 (Published 06 January 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:a3188
Charles Nemeroff, a psychiatrist and expert in depression and mood and anxiety disorders, has lost his post as chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, because of payments from drug companies that he had not disclosed.
In October, Dr Nemeroff, who had chaired the department for 17 years, temporarily stepped down after the Senate finance committee found that he had received payments from GlaxoSmithKline and other companies but had not reported them to the university or to the National Institutes of Health as required. Emory then set up a new conflict of interest office (BMJ 2008;337:a2200).
In a statement on 23 December, Emory said that Dr Nemeroff “will remain in the department as a professor and will focus on clinical care, teaching, and other academic pursuits.” The university said that it found no evidence that his outside engagements had affected clinical care for patients or people in clinical trials, or that his outside work had biased his scientific research.
Dr Nemeroff agreed to new restrictions on his outside activities. The university said that he will not be allowed to apply for grants from the National Institutes of Health for two years. The daily newspaper the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the psychiatry department received $22m (£15m; €16m) in institute grants last year (www.ajc.com, 23 Dec, “Emory will punish psychiatrist Nemeroff”).
Dr Nemeroff and the university have agreed that he will seek the dean’s approval before accepting any engagements paid for outside the university. He will be limited to accepting payment for speaking engagements accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education and sponsored by academic institutions or professional societies.
The Senate committee’s senior Republican, senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, alleged in September that Dr Nemeroff had been paid large amounts over seven years by drug companies and posted relevant documents on the committee’s website (http://finance.senate.gov/sitepages/hearing091608.htm; BMJ 2008:337:a2088, doi:10.1136/bmj.a2088).
The university said that its internal investigation focused on Dr Nemeroff’s payments from GlaxoSmithKline because it was the largest single payer to Dr Nemeroff, “and it cooperated with Emory in making a complete set of records available for Emory’s independent examination.”
The university added, “The Emory investigation showed that Dr Nemeroff received more than $800 000 in income from GSK [GlaxoSmithKline] for presentations that he did not report to Emory. This represented payments for more than 250 speaking engagements in the period between January 2000 and January 2006.
“Though Dr Nemeroff viewed these talks as educational lectures not subject to disclosure, Emory policies required otherwise. The investigation determined that Dr Nemeroff should have abided by the policies and/or sought clarification if, as he later stated, he believed the policies and regulations were ambiguous.”
In his only statement, issued on 3 October 2008, Dr Nemeroff said, “To the best of my knowledge, I have followed the appropriate university regulations concerning financial disclosures. I have dedicated my career to translating research findings into improvements in clinical research in patients with severe mental illness. I will cooperate fully and work with Emory to respond to the alleged conflict of interest issues raised by Senator Grassley and his staff.”
A university spokesperson said Dr Nemeroff was not commenting any further on the latest decision.
GlaxoSmithKline had not responded to the BMJ’s request for comment when this story was published, but previously a spokeswoman told the BMJ that healthcare professionals are responsible for making disclosures to their employers and other entities. She also said that the company would be making information about its payments to healthcare professionals available to the public.
Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a3188