Harvard Medical School (HMS) officials confirmed Friday that the school has begun a comprehensive review of its conflict-of-interest policy for the first time in ten years.
Possible revisions to the policy have been under the supervision of a senior HMS faculty committee for nearly a year and could effect restrictions on financial opportunities allowed for Harvard researchers.
The current conflict of interest policy limits the kinds of interactions researchers can have with businesses in which they have a vested financial interest, like stock ownership. Academic researchers sometimes receive grants to fund their work from private corporations and businesses.
Currently, researchers can only own up to $20,000 worth of companies that work in research and technology fields. They are also limited to $10,000 a year in consultant fees.
The introduction to the policy states: "The faculty is particularly concerned about the content and quality of the training experience for students whose research is sponsored by a for-profit business and whose preceptors have a personal interest in that business."
The faculty committee may well choose to loosen these restrictions. Several competing universities already have less stringent standards. At Stanford, for instance, faculty members are allowed to own up to $100,000 worth of research and technology firms without alerting university.
Associate Dean of HMS Public Affairs Don L. Gibbons declined to go into detail on the changes proposed by the committee, but said concerns about faculty retention have helped motivate the review.
Gibbons said that "the changing nature of science, the fact that the policy hasn't been reviewed in ten years, and the suggestion that some faculty recruitment and retention was being hurt by the old policy" were all reasons pushing the school to reexamine the old policy.
In a recent Boston Globe article, Executive Dean for Academic Programs Dennis Kasper said the current policy may be behind the times in comparison with other medical schools.
"By everyone's measure, we have the most conservative policy around,"
Kasper told The Boston Globe. "The goal [in reviewing the
policy] was to see if we are extremely
out of line with what is going on with
our sister universities."
Gibbons stressed that changes to the policy have not yet been adopted. He said the proposed
policy is still in its drafting phases.
"It is very much under construction," he said.