Emory Researcher Sanctioned for Failing to Disclose Drug Company Payments

A prominent Emory University professor has lost a chairmanship as a result of a controversy stemming from payments he received from drug companies.  The Wall Street Journal reported today that Charles Nemeroff is stepping down from his position as head of the school’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, position he has held since 1991, following an internal investigation.  The university will also be restricting Nemeroff’s research and  extracurricular activities.

Nemeroff has been cited several times in an investigation being conducted by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who has been probing the financial ties between medical researchers and the pharmaceutical industry.  As Grassley’s investigation focused more and more on Nemeroff’s possible conflicts-of-interest, Emory promised an investigation.  

According to The Wall street Journal, that investigation found that Nemeroff failed to report to Emory more than $800,000 he received from Glaxo for more than 250 speaking engagements from Jan. 2000 to Jan. 2006.  According to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, Emory’s investigation also found that Nemeroff received income from other drug makers, but Glaxo was by far his biggest patron.

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 <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/paxil">Paxil and other drugs the company made.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal last week, 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 in  a letter dated Dec. 17, Grassley voiced skepticism.  “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.”

Grassley also criticized Nemeroff for a letter he wrote in 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 Wall Street Journal, 14 other Emory faculty members received similar payments to write <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/effexor">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, received payments from a Wyeth grant.

In addition to reaching an agreement with Nemeroff to leave the department chairman post, The Wall Street Journal reported that Emory will not submit any National Institutes of Health grant or contract requests in which  Nemeroff is listed as an investigator for two years.  Nemeroff will also need pre-approval from the dean of the medical school for any outside income, the Journal-Constitution said.

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