Scratch at some physician/researcher relationships with drug companies, and it's like archeology: Beneath a layer of old stucco or paint, there's a huge mural of connections no one ever suspected was there. Today's New York Times report on Dr. Joseph Biederman, a renowned child psychiatrist recently made infamous for neglecting to report payments from pharma, is a prime example. Now that eyes are on Biederman's doings with drug companies, a whole new world is coming into view.
According to the newspaper's research into court documents, Biederman lobbied Johnson & Johnson to fund a research center at Massachusetts General Hospital that would focus on treating pediatric mental illness--aiming to "move forward the commercial goals of J&J." One of the center's goals, according to a 2002 annual report, was "more widespread use of medications in children." And an internal J&J email said the center's rationale would be "to generate and disseminate data supporting the use of risperidone [Risperdal] in" children and adolescents.
Well, on that score, the center succeeded. One quarter of Risperdal's scrips go to kids and teens. And a study released earlier this week concluded that antipsychotics such as Risperdal are used far too "cavalierly" in kids.
Responding to the Times, Massachusetts General said in a statement that it took the accusations related to the research center "very seriously" and intended "to investigate these issues thoroughly." Harvard University, where Biederman is a professor, says it's still studying accusations that Biederman failed to report pharma payments to the university as required. Biederman himself couldn't be reached. The Wall Street Journal Health Blog notes that the court documents suggest J&J could have been promoting Risperdal for off-label uses, because some of this activity took place before the drug got the pediatric OK; the company declined to comment.