Doctors on the take to drug companies seem to be dominating the news of late. Business Week recently chronicled the case of two doctors who touted the long-term use of Chantix and other prescription drugs to curb tobacco cravings in an Annals of Internal Medicine article. Turns out both doctors were being paid for speaking and consulting by the makers of these smoking cessation drugs, among them Pfizer, which makes Chantix. While Drs. Michael Steinberg and Jonathan Foulds disclosed these financial ties in the fine print at the end of the Annals article, they did not disclose their conflicts to the hundreds of patients they’ve steered to Chantix. (Reports that Chantix causes suicidal thoughts and behaviors in some patients are now being investigated by the FDA).
A day earlier, Pharmalot wrote about yet another prominent academic psychiatrist who failed to fully disclose financial conflicts of interest. The U.S. Senate Finance Committee discovered that Dr. Alan Schatzberg, chief of psychiatry at Stanford University, owns about $6 million in stocks in Corcept Therapeutics, whose drug is involved in a National Institutes of Health study that Schatzberg oversees. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a ranking member of the Senate committee, reported that Schatzberg failed to fully disclose the extent of his ties to Corcept Therapeutics. The psychiatrist also failed to fully disclose thousands of dollars in personal income from Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly in recent years. Here is Grassley’s remarks about Schatzberg in the Congressional Record.
Schatzberg’s ties to the drug industry go way back, as I reveal in my book, Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial. In 1998, Schatzberg was the moderator of an industry-sponsored symposium that touted the benefits of a hot new antidepressant on the market, Serzone, manufactured by Bristol Myers Squibb. Schatzberg received money to moderate the symposium, as did several of the speakers that day, including Dr. Martin Keller, chief of psychiatry at Brown University, a major figure in my book. A few months after the symposium, Keller went on to publish a study in The New England Journal of Medicine touting the benefits of Serzone in treating chronic depression when prescribed with psychotherapy. For his services that year, Keller received $77,400 in consulting fees from Bristol Myers Squibb. The footnote? Serzone was removed from the market in 2004 after it was found to cause liver damage in patients, a number of whom died.