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Harvard Doctors Will Refuse Industry Gifts, Meals Under Conflicts Policy

Harvard Medical School tightened its policy on conflict of interest, banning faculty from receiving corporate gifts and meals and restricting them from speaking on behalf of companies.

The policy is “one of the most stringent of any medical college in the country,” the Boston-based medical school said today in an e-mailed statement. Dean Jeffrey Flier approved the revisions, which were produced by a review committee of 34 faculty members and will be introduced in January, Harvard said.

Harvard, Columbia University in New York and Johns Hopkins University’s medical school in Baltimore have stepped up oversight of interactions with companies following reports showing some doctors hold financial ties to companies whose products they were evaluating. Two of Harvard’s biggest affiliated hospitals announced their own set of stiffened conflict-of-interest guidelines in October.

“Within and outside industry, many recognize that industry and academia must seek a new model of academia- industry collaboration to achieve greater success at discovery and development of new treatments while fully protecting academic values and those of the medical profession,” Flier said in the statement.

Across Campus

Harvard University also adopted a campus-wide policy on conflict of interest, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based school said on its website. The new policy was adopted by Harvard’s board, often called the President and Fellows of Harvard College, or the Harvard Corporation.

It’s the first time such a policy has been created to cover faculty members across the campus, the university said. The policy is intended to serve as a framework for schools to craft their own sets of conflict-of-interest guidelines, it said.

“We’re living in a period of history when the news media, the general public, and members of Congress and government agencies are very concerned that potential financial conflicts might interfere with the kind of objective exploration and reporting of science that is at the very heart of the academic enterprise,” said Harvard Provost Steven Hyman in the statement on its website.

The medical school was earlier stung by criticism when Senator Charles Grassley said Harvard psychiatrist Joseph Biederman failed to disclose some payments from drug companies while he conducted research recommending their medications for treating children with mental disorders. Grassley questioned the value of Biederman’s research on medicines.

Updated Guidelines

The new guidelines update recommendations that Harvard Medical School first approved in 1990, the statement said. Under the new policy, all relevant financial interests of the school’s faculty will be disclosed on a website, it said. In addition to the prohibition on participation in speaker’s bureaus, faculty will be barred from speaking engagements that limit intellectual independence.

The medical school said it will continue to educate students, doctors-in-training and faculty members about the importance and potential pitfalls of such conflicts, and restrict drug and device sales officials from accessing the campus. Industry advertising programs and exhibits will also be separated from Harvard educational events, it said.

Harvard Medical School has more than 7,500 full-time faculty working at its campus and in its 17 affiliated hospitals and research institutes, it said.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net

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