Dr Philip A Pizzo, the medical school dean, proclaimed, “We want to secure the public trust to value what happens in academic medicine.” Interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, he said, "we were really seeking to do the right thing. We want to set a standard."
On the other hand, " The new policy does not cover consulting agreements between faculty members and companies aimed at developing drugs or medical devices. Those are governed by an existing conflict-of-interest policy. Such interactions are especially important at Stanford, where many professors have been involved in starting or advising companies in nearby Silicon Valley." However, "a Stanford spokeswoman said having a financial interest is not necessarily a conflict if the faculty member is not providing patient care. "
That seems like a curious point of view, because a faculty member could have great influence on patient care without providing it directly. Stanford faculty, of course, teach students and residents. And they write articles in respected medical journals and given talks at national and international venue.
In fact, only two months ago, Paul Jacobs authored an expose of conflicts of interest at the Stanford medical school and teaching hospitals in the San Jose Mercury News. Some of the anecdotes reported in the series (see posts here, here, and here) were:
- "The school's 700-plus faculty members last year disclosed 299 potential conflicts of interest related to their research, according to figures provided by Stanford."
- "Potential conflicts occur throughout the school's ranks. More than a third of the school's administrators, department heads and other leaders -- at least 26 out of 67 reviewed by the Mercury News -- have reported outside financial interests related to their research within the last four years. "
- "One researcher has founded six companies, most based on research that came out of his own lab. He is a managing partner of a venture capital firm focused on medical research and sits on the boards of several other companies. "
- "And the physician who until January chaired the department of gynecology and obstetrics is a longtime director of Wyeth, which manufactures controversial hormone replacement therapy for women -- therapy she defended in 2002 when potentially serious health risks were emerging."
- The Associate Dean for Research "holds stock options in and is a consultant to MedImmune, which makes an influenza vaccine he is studying under a federal grant." He also "a paid member of MedImmune's scientific advisory board and holds stock options...."
- The Chair of Psychiatry is currently running a federal grant on mifepristone as a treatment of depression, and has previously been the senior author of two related articles. Although he acknowledged that he helped found and still has a "financial interest" in Corcept Therapeutics, he did not fully disclose that he "took a seat on the board of directors and a part-time post as chairman of the company's scientific advisory board, a job that now pays him $60,000 a year. He and his family were granted 3 million Corcept shares for $1,000 -- today worth nearly $12 million." He had been accused of making exaggerated claims about Corcept's products in scholarly articles which did not reveal the extent of his involvement with the company.
- Dr Pizzo defended the continuing involvement of Stanford and its faculty with commercial firms "to bring the fruits of university research to the public. This process has resulted in many medical innovations and advances that have improved the lives of millions of Americans."
Is it "doing the right thing" to prohibit minor conflicts of interest affecting mainly trainees and junior faculty, while letting senior faculty and administrators preserve their large conflicts of interest? What sort of hypocritical "standard" does it set to prohibit junior faculty from being influenced by pens and coffee mugs when making clinical decisions, but allowing senior faculty to be influenced by five-figure consulting income, and seven-figure stock option holding when writing papers, speaking to national audiences, and teaching trainees?