Four years ago a Harvard Medical School student smelled a rat when his pharmacology lecturer waxed on and on about the benefits of cholesterol busting drugs and then came on a bit too strong towards a classmate who had queried about their side effects.
Matt Zerden did a little snooping and it turned out the professor was bankrolled by 10 drug companies including 5 that made cholesterol drugs.
One thing led to another and now 200 HMS students and a handful of sympathetic faculty are on a mission to expose and limit industry influence in the classroom and who knows, maybe the labs and HMS’ 17 teaching hospitals as well.
This hasn’t phased HMS dean Jeffrey Flier who actually agrees things need to be tightened up a bit. He just tasked a committee to look at the school’s conflict-of-interest policies.
Flier had received a research grant for half a mil from Bristol-Myers Squibb and had consulted to 3 Cambridge biotech firms before accepting his new position 17 months ago. He unclipped those links before signing on as dean and hasn’t forged any new ones since.
According to the New York Times, that’s in contrast to his predecessor Joe Martin, who sat on Baxter International’s board for 5 years while he was in at dean for HMS.
For his efforts, Martin received up to nearly $200K a year from Baxter, piled nice and high on top of his HMS salary.
The activist HMS students have already secured passage of a blanket policy requiring that lecturers disclose industry ties in class, but this is an uphill battle.
For example, 1,600 HMS lecturers have told the dean either they or a family member have financial ties to a business related to their patient care, teaching or research.
And then there are the industry-endowed chairs, faculty prizes in the name of drug companies, Big Pharma-subsidized training programs taught by faculty on the take from…Big Pharma, and so on.