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Review launched after Harvard psychiatrist failed to disclose industry funding

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 12 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1327
  1. Jeanne Lenzer
  1. 1New York

Findings that a leading Harvard professor of psychiatry failed to report substantial payments that he received from drug companies has caused Harvard Medical School, one of its affiliated hospitals, and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to come under fire.

An investigation by the US senator Charles Grassley showed that the psychiatrist, Joseph Biederman, and two of his colleagues, Thomas Spencer and Timothy Wilens, had altogether received more than $4.2m (£2.1m; €2.7m) from drug companies since 2000.

The financial disclosure forms filed by the three doctors, according to Mr Grassley, “were a mess” and made it seem that they had received only “a couple of hundred thousand dollars” in the past seven years (

Mr Grassley said that the failure of the researchers to report their full income could place Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital “in jeopardy of violating NIH regulations on conflicts of interest.” Such violations could also jeopardise funding from the institutes to these institutions.

Officials at Harvard Medical School issued a statement in response to Mr Grassley’s charges stating, “The conflict of interest policies of Harvard Medical School are rigorous and comprehensive and set some of the highest standards among medical colleges.” The school officials added, “We take this issue seriously,” and that the school will “participate in a university-wide review of its conflict of interest policies” and “conduct in-depth interviews with randomly selected faculty members to review their disclosure forms.”

Mr Grassley pointed the finger at other high profile researchers who concealed or failed to report financial conflicts of interest while receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health. In a letter to the institutes’ director, Elias Zerhouni, dated 4 June, Mr Grassley wrote, “I have become increasingly concerned about the lack of oversight regarding conflicts of interest relating to the almost $24bn in annual extramural funds that are distributed by the NIH.”

Mr Grassley asked Dr Zerhouni to “explain what actions the NIH has or will initiate to provide better oversight and transparency for its extramural funding programme.”

Professor Biederman, at the centre of the scandal, has been widely recognised as one of the most influential psychiatrists in the world. He is a leading proponent of the diagnosis of paediatric bipolar disorder and he is currently conducting a study of the antipsychotic, quetiapine (Seroquel) in children aged 4 to 6 years with bipolar disorder (

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