by Daniel Bennett
The Wall Street Journal published an article today that deals a serious blow to the credibility of university health-research. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has provided more than $23 billion to educational institutions for health-related research. The purpose of this publicly-supported research is to provide an impartial evaluation on the potential benefits and dangers of new medical advances, including drugs.
The problem is that some of the top university researchers are also on the payroll of the drug companies. Karen Wagner, of the University of Texas, has been consulting for GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of anti-depressant Paxil, since 2000. She has served as a public spokeswomen for the drug. Ironically, the University of Texas received a NIH grant in 2000, in part, to study the effects of Paxil on teenagers who take the drug to treat anxiety, in which Wagner was actively engaged. During the same year, Dr. Wagner also received $53,000 for services rendered to Glaxo.
One doesn't have to major in corporate ethics or read the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to realize that this is, at the minimum, a potential conflict of interest. Apparently, Dr. Wagner didn't read Darleen Drunyun's memoirs from prison to realize that her actions were presumptuous. Hats go off to Senator Charles Grassley, who is lobbying for proper disclosure of university ties to industry, and suggests tougher action against offenders. This is a step in the right direction towards making universities more transparent and accountable.