Harvard docs punished for undisclosed pharma ties

Three Harvard Medical School psychiatrists who made headlines for their ties to the pharma industry are now being sanctioned by the school and its affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. According to the Harvard Crimson, Joseph Biederman, Thomas Spencer and Timothy Wilens are barred from paid, industry-sponsored work for one year. And for two years after that, they will have to get upfront approval from Harvard and Mass General for any industry-paid activities.

The three men sent a letter of apology to their colleagues, saying Harvard and Mass General determined they had violated conflicts of interest policies, the Crimson reports. The actual violations weren't listed, but a U.S. Senate investigation found in 2008 they had failed to report some $4.2 million in payments from drug companies as required by university policy.

The three men's letter called their conflicts violations "honest" mistakes. "We now recognize that we should have devoted more time and attention to the detailed requirements of these policies and to their underlying objectives," the letter states (as quoted by the Crimson). In addition to the one-year ban and two-year monitoring period, they may be temporarily passed over for promotions or other career advances, the letter states.

Led by Sen. Charles Grassley, the 2008 Senate probe touched off a Harvard Medical School investigation into ties between academics and industry and fueled calls for disclosure of financial ties between doctors and pharma companies. A Harvard review ended up producing the first university-wide conflicts-of-interest guidelines, and the medical school has since adopted rules prohibiting personal gifts from industry and limiting compensation from companies. Meanwhile, Congress passed the Physician Payments Sunshine Act mandating doctor-payment disclosures.

- read the Crimson coverage
- get more from NPR