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New Guidelines Restrict Faculty Income, Stipends from Drug Companies

Newly implemented guidelines at Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals will restrict the amount of pay top officials at the research hospitals can receive for serving on boards of pharmaceutical companies, the New York Times, Boston Globe, and others report. Junior faculty will face new restrictions, too: All faculty members within the Partners HealthCare system may no longer accept speaker’s fees from drug companies, nor can they participate in industry speakers’ bureaus.

One of the senior officials affected is physician-investigator Dennis A. Ausiello, chief of medicine at Massachusetts General and chief scientific officer of Partners HealthCare. He received more than $220,000 from Pfizer last year for service on the company’s board. He told the New York Times that the drug companies are “crucial to translate academic research into drugs that benefit patients,” the Times reports. “I’m very proud of my board work,” he told the Times. “I’m not there to make money. I certainly think I should be compensated fairly and symmetrically with my fellow board members, but if my institutions rule otherwise, as they have, I will continue to serve on the board.”

Not everyone agrees that top brass at medical centers should be interacting at all with drug companies. Thomas Donaldson, a professor of business ethics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times that “dual roles in a hospital and at a drug maker were ‘dicey at best’ because a director’s duty is to look out for the corporation’s financial interests,” the Times reports.

The rules for senior officials, which, according to the Boston Globe, affect about 25 senior officials and executives, limits physicians to receiving $500 an hour to a maximum of $5000 per day for serving on drug company boards. They also may no longer accept stock. The new guidelines stemmed from recommendations made last April by an internal commission appointed to examine Partners HealthCare’s policies regarding interactions with drug and device companies.

The issue is somewhat of a moving target, concedes Eugene Braunwald, a Harvard professor and former Partners chief academic officer who chaired the internal commission. “In all fairness,” he told the Times, “what was OK three years ago is not OK now.”

As it happens, the January issue of the journal Academic Medicine has a special series of articles on academia-industry relationships, including two articles that are available for free to non-subscribers: “Commentary: Conflict of Interest Policies: An Opportunity for the Medical Profession to Take the Lead” and “Can Academic Departments Maintain Industry Relationships While Promoting Physician Professionalism?”  

You can read more from AAMC on financial conflicts of interest from its Web site, Financial Conflicts of Interest in Academic Medicine, and you can read about the subject on CTSciNet in For Physician-Scientists, Conflict-of-Interest Issues Are Complex.