Published: March 3, 2009 (New York Times)
Senator Charles E. Grassley on Tuesday asked the drug maker Pfizer to provide details of its payments to at least 149 faculty members at Harvard Medical School.
The senator, an Iowa Republican who is investigating the drug industry’s influence on the practice of medicine, also asked for any Pfizer e-mail, faxes, letters or photos regarding Harvard medical students who have protested drug company influence.
Mr. Grassley, in a letter to Pfizer , wrote that he was “greatly disturbed” to read an article in The New York Times on Tuesday describing a Pfizer representative taking cellphone photographs of the medical students last October at a campus demonstration against industry influence. “I find this troubling as I have documented several instances where pharmaceutical companies have attempted to intimidate academic critics of drugs,” he wrote.
A Pfizer spokesman said on Tuesday that the company “will fully cooperate with Senator Grassley’s request for information.” The spokesman, Ray Kerins, said Pfizer regrets if the photograph taken by the sales representative “was offensive to anyone involved,” but believes the company has acted legally and ethically and that collaboration with medical schools is “a valuable source of innovation and scientific advancement.”
David Cameron, spokesman for Harvard Medical School, said in an e-mail message, “We are unable to provide comment on this matter."
Mr. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, asked Pfizer to provide details of faculty payments since Jan. 1, 2007, and communications regarding the students since Jan. 1, 2008, to be delivered to him by next Wednesday.
At the October demonstration, which involved about 50 Harvard Medical students and was sponsored by the American Medical Student Association, some protesters saw a man photographing them with a cellphone. He later identified himself as a Pfizer representative but did not give his name. David Tian, one of the students, photographed the man and said he worried that the man had been sending photos to Pfizer.
Mr. Kerins said recently that the man had told him the photos were for the man’s personal use. Mr. Kerins said the man, whom he declined to name, had done nothing improper. Harvard policy prohibits drug representatives from interacting with students on the medical campus but does not bar them from the campus or from taking photographs.
The dean of the medical school, Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier, recently appointed a 19-member committee to review the school’s financial conflict of interest policies. Its first meeting, which will not be public, is planned for Thursday.
The American Medical Student Association, in a national survey of medical schools last year, gave the Harvard Medical School an F grade for how well it controlled drug company payments to faculty members. Dr. Flier said Harvard deserved an “incomplete” rather than an F because it had not submitted paperwork to the association. But the students said they had based their grade on Harvard’s published policies.
The Times reported Tuesday that Harvard officials had said about 1,600 of the medical school’s 8,900 professors and lecturers informed the dean that they or a relative had a financial interest in a business related to their teaching, research or clinical care. The faculty disclosures do not specify how much money they receive, nor are they public.
A version of this article appeared in print on March 4, 2009, on page B3 of the New York edition. (NY Times)