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More Questions About Emory University - Drug Maker Ties

Dec 19, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Emory University is being criticized once again because of its financial ties to drug makers.  This time, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has slammed the Atlanta, GA university for allegedly changing its rules in order to protect a doctor who is on its faculty.

Universities are supposed to monitor conflicts when their researchers receive government grants.  According to a report published by The New York Times in October, Grassley has been asking some of the nation’s leading researchers to provide their conflict-of-interest disclosures, and is comparing those documents with records of actual payments from drug companies.

The Emory faculty member in question is Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, one of the nation’s top psychiatric researchers.  In October, we reported that documents released by Emory to Grassley's investigators indicated that Nemeroff was paid more than $2 million by pharmaceutical companies, but failed to report more than $1 million of that income to the school while working on government-funded drug researcher. Those documents include a letter from Nemeroff dated July 15, 2004 in which he promises Emory administrators that he would earn less than $10,000 a year from GlaxoSmithKline to comply with federal rules.  But in that same year, Nemeroff actually earned $170,000 from Glaxo for giving talks about Paxil and other drugs the company made.  

According to The Wall Street Journal, Emory has tried to explain the Glaxo payments by claiming they were for talks that weren’t promotional in nature but instead were “CME-like” (a term for continuing medical education).  Emory claims that the distinction led Nemeroff to believe he didn’t need to disclose those payments, the Journal said.

But Grassley isn’t buying it.  In a letter dated Dec. 17, Grassley chided Emory’s president.  “Neither anyone on my staff, nor any medical expert that they have contacted, have ever heard of the term ‘CME-like,’ ” he wrote. “It appears to be a new term created at Emory University.”

The Wall Street Journal also reports that Nemeroff himself is facing criticism for a letter he wrote 2000 when he was also serving as editor in chief of the journal Depression and Anxiety.  According to the Journal, which termed the missive a “Dear Me” letter, Nemeroff wrote it on the journal’s letterhead, and indicated he being paid $3,000 by the publication to write an article about Wyeth Pharmaceutical’s antidepressant, Effexor.  But Nemeroff also billed Emory that exact amount for the article.  It’s not clear if Nemeroff received two payments of $3,000, one from Emory and one from the journal.

According to the Journal, 14 other Emory faculty members received similar payments to write Effexor articles for the same issue of Depression and Anxiety.  Grassley says their payments, and the $3,000 Nemeroff received from Emory actually, came from a grant furnished by Wyeth.  According to the senator, the issue of Depression and Anxiety where the articles appeared fails to mention that any of the authors, including Nemeroff, were paid out of an account funded by Wyeth.

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