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Outrageous Pharma/Medical Conflicts of Interest

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A Dean of a Medical School on a Drug Company Board ?


Interview About High-Level Conflicts of Interest with Walid Gellad , MD

Walid Gellad, MD, MPH is both assistant professor of medicine and assistant professor of health policy at the University of Pittsburgh and a physician in the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Pittsburgh Healthcare System. He is coauthor of a recent research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) [ Academic Medical Center Leadership on Pharmaceutical Company Boards of Directors, also by Timothy Anderson, MD, Chester Good, MD, MPH and Shravan Dave, BS] that reveals almost all US large drug companies and 40 percent of all drug companies studied have leaders in academic medical centers on their boards. These drug company board members include deans, chief executive officers, department chairs, trustees at academic medical centers, school of pharmacy officials and university presidents.

Serving Two Masters by Martha Rosenberg



Your recent JAMA paper exposes shocking industry/academic relationships many would not expect and was covered by the Associated Press, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel and a Wall Street Journal blog. What inspired you and your colleagues to investigate this?

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There is a lot of talk right now about physician conflicts of interest, whether the discussion is about medical students accepting pens or lunches from the pharmaceutical industry or physician consulting and speaking payments becoming public with the Physician Payment Sunshine Act. Yet the issue of dual leadership--academic medical center leaders serving on pharmaceutical company boards of directors--has not really been addressed. We investigated these relationships for 2012 using publicly available data.


Just as shocking as academic leaders serving two masters was the sheer money involved--an average of $300,000 was paid to academic leaders or members of boards of trustees serving on drug company boards. One article defending the board positions said "$300,000 is not buying anyone's ethics," but I think most of the world would disagree.

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These amounts of compensation are typical for serving on large corporate boards. The corporate governance that board members provide includes oversight over executive leadership and fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. Remember, not all the academic leaders we found who are serving on drug company boards are deans, presidents or CEOs of hospitals. Some are on boards of trustees and not entrusted with running day-to-day operations of academic health centers--but they all had leadership roles at both academic centers and in industry. Also remember that we are not saying anything negative about academic/industry relationships in general, or necessarily about these particular relationships, but we feel that they need to be in the open and understood by the general public, patients, and doctors, just like other potential conflicts of interest"

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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How can an academic medical leader "serve" his in... by Martha Rosenberg on Thursday, Apr 17, 2014 at 10:32:07 AM
Yes, he can serve the patients. You see rotten a... by BFalcon on Friday, Apr 18, 2014 at 6:09:37 AM
Amen!  And then maybe we can get the TV ads t... by Shirley Braverman on Thursday, Apr 17, 2014 at 9:41:31 PM