Being Joe Biederman

December 4th, 2008 | Sources: NY Times

The man had to know this day would come.

The fall of Joe Biederman began last summer when a Congressional investigation led by Iowa Republican Charles Grassley accused the famous child psychologist of failing to report more than $1 million in income from Johnson & Johnson and other drug makers.

At the time Biederman defended himself by saying his “interests are solely in the advancement of medical treatment through rigorous and objective study.”

So Biederman wasn’t saying much last week when J & J documents came to light showing he had lobbied the drug maker to fund a research center at Massachusetts General Hospital whose goal it would be to “move forward the commercial goals of J & J.”

Biederman is the man who almost singlehandedly put pediatric bipolar disorder on the map, in part by publishing many studies that were funded by drug makers. Diagnoses of pediatric bipolar disorder increased 40-fold between 1994 and 2003.

Biederman also happened to champion the use of expensive new antipsychotic medicines for this and other psychiatric conditions in children as young as 6 years of age, beginning at least 5 years before the FDA approved the drugs for this purpose.

The new medicines, so-called atypical antipsychotics include Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify and Geodon. J & J makes Risperdal. These drugs have nasty side effects including marked weight gain, metabolic abnormalities and tics. 1,200 children have suffered serious complications from Risperdal and 31 died.

The newly released documents were part of a routine filing made by lawyers representing individuals claiming to have been injured by the atypical antipsychotics produced by J & J, AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly. The filing ended up compelling Beiderman to testify under oath in the case. That will happen in January.

One document outlined criteria for research to be carried out at Biederman’s Johnson & Johnson Center for the study of pediatric psychopathology, as follows: to improve psychiatric care for children, exhibit high standards and “move forward the commercial goals of J&J.”

Then there was the 2002 e-mail from a J & J executive, Georges Gharabawi which said Dr. Biederman had approached his company several times to propose creation of the center. “The rationale of this center is to generate and disseminate data supporting the use of risperidone in” adolescents and children, he wrote.

Johnson & Johnson contributed $700,000 to Biederman’s center that year.


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