Research, Teaching, and Conflict of Interest

The topic of “research ethics” sometimes gets conflated with the sort of stuff that Ethics Boards oversee, including mainly the protection of human subjects and compliance with relevant regulations.

But research ethics is of course broader than that. Here’s an interesting story about how the funding of a professor’s research has implications for his or her relationship with students.

From The Harvard Crimson: Harvard Medical School Students Push to Codify Conflict of Interest Polices

Addressing a weekly clinic for “The Molecular and Cellular Basis of Medicine,” a required introductory course for first-year medical and dental students, Medical School professor Paul G. G. Richardson was accompanied by a patient diagnosed with myeloma, a potentially deadly blood cancer.

The patient was being successfully treated with a bortezomib-based therapy, a drug marketed as Velcade by the Cambridge-based Millennium Pharmaceuticals. Students said that during the clinic discussion, Richardson suggested bortezomib can now be used as a first-line treatment—meaning that physicians can prescribe use of the drug at diagnosis, rather than only as a second or third-line therapy when the disease has recurred.

Intrigued by his presentation, several students later looked up some of his peer-reviewed articles and found that Richardson was on Millennium’s advisory board—a potential conflict of interest that was not disclosed during the session with Richardson and his patient.

The story continues:

In response to the student concerns, the school’s curriculum committee revised the school’s student handbook last month to include a section of new policies mandating that faculty and students disclose all financial ties to pharmaceutical companies when discussing drugs developed by those companies.

It’s food for thought…at least on a day when you’re not busy either preparing, or reviewing, a proposal!

Four excellent books to recommend:

~ by Nancy Walton on November 18, 2008.

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