December 30, 2008
A prominent Harvard child psychiatrist will curtail activities financed by the drug industry while Massachusetts General Hospital investigates his failure for years to disclose the consulting fees he received from drug makers.
Dr. Joseph Biederman, a world-renowned and controversial researcher on childhood mental illness, has agreed to stop participating in speaking engagements and other activities paid for by pharmaceutical companies, and also to stop his work on industry-funded activities within the hospital. That includes some clinical trials that are currently underway at the hospital, said Peggy Slasman, a spokeswoman for Massachusetts General.
She said the trials would continue, but Dr. Biederman would not be involved.
“He’s just not going to be doing any of that as long as these review processes go on, until they wrap up and some decisions are made,” Ms. Slasman said. The hospital said in a statement that it is evaluating whether Dr. Biederman violated rules “related to potential conflicts of interest, disclosure and industry-institutional relationships.”
Ms. Slasman said that Dr. Biederman would be allowed to continue working on federally funded research during the review.
A lawyer for Dr. Biederman, Peter Spivack, said, “The agreement is one that was mutual.”
“We support M.G.H.’s desire to do an inquiry, and Dr. Biederman is cooperating with them,” Mr. Spivack added.
Mr. Spivack said that if issues arise with any of Dr. Biederman’s patients who are participating in the industry-funded clinical trials, “he’ll consult with his superiors” and will “be involved for the patient’s sake” to ensure that important information about the patient is relayed to doctors involved in the trial.
He said that the agreement will also prevent Dr. Biederman from participating in some conferences in his field that receive industry money.
Earlier this year, a Congressional investigation of payments received by physicians from industry sources found that Dr. Biederman had been paid at least $1.6 million in consulting fees by drug makers from 2000 to 2007, but had failed to report much of this income to Harvard officials for several years.
Dr. Biederman has been a leading advocate for the idea that very young children can suffer from bipolar disorder... His research contributed to a forty-fold increase in diagnoses of pediatric bipolar disorder from 1994 to 2003, as well as to a rapid increase in the prescribing of potent and potentially dangerous antipsychotic drugs to children.