US university sets up conflict of interest office after investigation into drug company payments

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 21 October 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2200
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

    Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, said that it was setting up a new office to oversee conflict of interest issues.

    The US Senate Finance Committee is investigating Charles Nemeroff, chairman of the university’s department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, for allegedly not reporting payments from drug companies.

    The university said that the new central office “will help us ensure strong conflict of interest policies and procedures university-wide.”

    The National Institutes of Health froze a $9.3m (£5.4m; €6.9m), five year grant to Dr Nemeroff on 15 August. Dr Nemeroff temporarily stepped down as department chairman, although he remains a professor.

    Emory University received $411m in research funding last year, of which $251m came from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said a university spokesman, Jeffrey Molter.

    The university told its researchers about new rules on financial disclosure for those working under new and pending grants from NIH. The university’s new office to oversee conflict of interest administration and policies will centralise reporting. Previously, most sponsored research had been at Emory’s School of Medicine, but now more studies are being done at other colleges, the university said.

    NIH imposed strict rules on Emory investigators, requiring them to disclose information about those who had received grants, subcontractors, collaborators, financial interests, and what Emory has done to manage, reduce, or eliminate conflicts of interest.

    Charles Grassley, the senior Republican member on the Senate committee, released documents last month alleging that Dr Nemeroff had received payments for consulting and speaking engagements from drug companies but had not disclosed all the payments to Emory (BMJ 2008:337:a2088, 16 Oct, doi:10.1136/bmj.a2088).

    In a statement Dr Nemeroff said he had followed university regulations “to the best of my knowledge” and that he was cooperating fully with the investigation.

    An NIH statement said, “Results from NIH funded research must not be biased by any conflicting financial interests. Officials at Emory are investigating the concerns. Failure to follow NIH standards on conflict of interest is very serious, and NIH will take all appropriate action to ensure compliance.”

    The conflicts reporting process could be improved, NIH said, and it would issue better guidelines soon.

    The NIH grant to Dr Nemeroff that is currently suspended was for a study of two antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy in patients with major depression. The study was to follow 400 adult depressed patients who had not been treated for 12 weeks. After one week’s treatment with a placebo they were to be randomised to treatment with escitalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, duloxetine, a serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor, or cognitive behavioural therapy.

    Documents released by Senator Grassley show that Dr Nemeroff has been a consultant to Lilly, manufacturer of duloxetine.

    Mr Molter said that patients already recruited into the study are continuing to participate but that no new participants are being enrolled.

    The BMJ asked GlaxoSmithKline, for whom Dr Nemeroff was a consultant, and Dr Nemeroff for comments but has not received a response.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2200

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