Grassley May be Stepping Down from Oversight Panel

Senate Finance Committee leader, Republican Senator Charles Grassley, is said to be readying to move to a higher position within the Judiciary Committee, a shift expected to thrill the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) and <"">Big Pharma

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, the Wall Street Journal is saying, and will place him at the committee’s head.

The top spot on the Judiciary Committee opened when Republican Arlen Specter changed sides, aligning himself with the Democratic Party earlier this week. His switch opened the top Republican spot on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator Grassley is well known for investigating the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry in recent years and is also considered to be most responsible for breaking the ongoing and conflicting relationships between industry, researchers, and research institutions, the Journal pointed out. In just under two years, it has been Grassley, added the Journal, who has broken open to the public a variety of industry ties with heavy hitters in medicine such as Joseph Biederman of Harvard University and Charles Nemeroff of Emory University.

Those relationships and the finances that were exchanged have long been making the news and point to biased relationships in which patients are often not the prime concern. Because of Grassley’s investigations, restrictions have been put in place that limit money researchers accept from Industry, publicize funds received, and restrict consultant and speaker roles, said the Journal. Grassley has also focused his efforts on issues with SSRI antidepressants, Vioxx, medical devices, the antidepressant Paxil, and diabetes drug Avandia, said the Journal, pointing out just a few.

While Grassley says he has wanted to move into the Republican leadership role on the Judiciary, he was not looking to do so for about another year and a-half, with the hopes of staying on the Finance Committee, explained the Journal; Grassley was hoping to continue his health care overhaul. Grassley may not be given a choice in the matter if his party forces him to make the choice immediately. Of note, said the Journal, the Finance Committee “oversees Medicare and Medicaid” and “tax issues that affect hospitals, drug makers, and insurance companies.”

Meanwhile, last year, prominent Emory University professor Charles Nemeroff lost his chairmanship following controversy over payments he received from drug companies. In December, following an internal investigation, Nemeroff stepped down as head of the school’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, a position he held since 1991. Since, Nemeroff and the university have been the subject of a Grassley-urged federal investigation into Nemeroff’s highly compensated activities with Industry.

Biederman’s activities also made for a well-publicized conflict of interest case. A prominent Harvard University psychiatrist, Biederman promised to deliver positive results to major drug maker Johnson & Johnson before the start of some clinical trials for Risperdal (Risperidone), an atypical antipsychotic medication, prompting another investigation by the Senator.

These types of relationships have prompted intense and growing scrutiny with some Congressional members asking for mandatory reporting of industry payments to the medical community, industry groups strengthening guidelines, and medical societies cutting funding, said the Journal in an earlier report.

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