The Boston Globe reported yesterday1 (2 July 2011) that three Harvard Professors, Bierderman, Spencer and Wilens, who were referenced 82, 46 and 32 times respectively in the discredited draft Australian Guidelines on ADHD, have been sanctioned by their employer for allegedly failing to disclose millions of dollars in pharmaceutical company payments. 2 3
The article states: ‘In a letter to co-workers yesterday, Biederman and Drs. Thomas Spencer and Timothy Wilens said the hospital and medical school “have determined that we violated certain requirements’’ of the institutions’ policies. They did not specify the nature of the violations. But in 2008, Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, accused the three doctors of accepting millions of dollars in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007, and of failing for years to report much of the income to university officials. Officials at Harvard and Massachusetts General released the letter to the Globe, but would not answer questions about the probe.‘
Although according to the Boston Globe ‘Biederman severed his industry ties soon after Massachusetts General and Harvard began their separate but coordinated investigations’ it appears he gets to keep the payments. However, the imposition of sanctions obviously confirms there was substance to the original allegations and should have serious implications for the Australian ADHD industry.
In November 2009 the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) decided that because of the then uncompleted investigation into undisclosed drug company payments to these three high profile US researchers the draft national ADHD guidelines had not been approved. The NHMRC later issued a press release stating that ‘If the US investigation remains unresolved by mid-2010, NHMRC will move to redevelop the draft guidelines’. 4 Despite this the mid 2010 deadline passed without action.
This was very disappointing as the Biederman scandal was not the only ‘conflict of interest’ controversy around the Draft National ADHD Guidelines. The guidelines committee was initially chaired by Dr Daryl Efron until his ADHD pharmaceutical company ties were exposed by the Daily Telegraph in April 2007. 5 Dr Efron had been on the advisory boards of Novartis (Ritalin) and Eli Lilly (Strattera). Media exposure of Dr Efron’s pharmaceutical company ties prompted then Health Minister Tony Abbott’s intervention and Efron’s resignation as chair, but not from the committee.
Freedom of Information processes also revealed the vast majority, at least 70%, but probably 80% ‘of the original (guidelines committee) group members, including doctors, have declared receiving grants and air fares, hotels and overseas trips from companies making drugs to treat the disorder.’ 6
The appointment of Australia’s first Mental Health Minister, Mark Butler, has brought fresh hope of a ‘conflict of interest’ free redevelopment of the national ADHD guidelines. Hopefully the sanctions on Bierderman, Spencer and Wilens along with the new evidence of significant long term harm from ADHD medications from the Raine Study will be the catalyst for decisive action.
For full detail, including a timeline, of the corrupted draft national ADHD guidelines see http://speedupsitstill.com/gillard-government-continues-turn-blind-eye-drug-company-money For more information on the Raine Study see http://speedupsitstill.com/raine-study-review-one-year-on For more information on the Biederman, Spencer and Wilens scandal see Harvard Docs Disciplined For Conflicts Of Interest // Pharmalot
LATE UPDATE: Todays’ Australian (5 July 2011) has reported that at last the flawed draft national guidelines are being redeveloped. Provided this is a ‘conflict of interest’ free process this is very welcome news. see http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/adhd-review-as-us-expert-faces-inquiry/story-e6frg6nf-1226087514583 When further information becomes available I will issue an update.
- Harvard doctors punished over pay, 2 July 2011, Liz Kowalczyk Boston Globe http://articles.boston.com/2011-07-02/lifestyle/29731040_1_harvard-medical-school-physicians-harvard-doctors ↩
- ‘On June 8 2008 the New York Times first exposed how Dr Biederman was paid US$1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers between 2000 and 2007 but did not disclose this income to his employer Harvard University. Gardiner Harris and Benedict Carey, ‘Researchers Fail to Reveal Full Drug Pay’. New York Times, 8 June 2008. ↩
- Biederman received research funds from 15 pharmaceutical companies and serves as a paid speaker or adviser to at least seven drug companies. ‘The Evolving Face of ADHD: From Adolescence to Adulthood—Clinical Implications’. Available at www.adhdhome.com (accessed 2 May 2008) ↩
- NHMRC, ‘Draft Australian Guidelines on ADHD – NHMRC consideration deferred pending outcome of USA investigation’, NHMRC Noticeboard 2009. Available at http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/media/noticeboard/notice09/091130-adhd.htm (accessed 5 January 2010). ↩
- ADHD guru quits over Ritalin link, Janet Fife-Yeomans, The Daily Telegraph 5 May 2007 http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/sydney-nsw/adhd-guru-quits-over-ritalin-link/story-e6freuzi-1111113472188 ↩
- Janet Fife-Yeomans, ‘Guidelines panel linked to drug firms’, The Advertiser, 17 November 2008, Available at http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,24660999-5006301,00.html (accessed 4 October 2009). ↩