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Pfizer Discloses Medical School Ties

By Laura G. Mirviss, Crimson Staff Writer

Senator Charles E. Grassley asked pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Inc., to disclose all financial ties to Harvard Medical School faculty on Tuesday, citing a recent New York Times report that 149 of the school’s faculty members have ties to the company.

In a letter addressed to the Pfizer CEO, Grassley—a Republican from Iowa who has been an outspoken critic of conflicts of interest in medical research—gave the company until March 10 to produce a “detailed account” of payments to Medical School faculty since the beginning of 2007.

Ray Kerins, a Pfizer spokesperson, told The Crimson yesterday that the company will give Grassley the requested information.

He added that the company has already committed to public disclosure of payments to physicians. On Feb. 9, Pfizer announced that it would begin making online postings of donations to physicians in July.

“This comes down to making sure that we conduct our business in the most highly ethical and responsible manner possible,” Kerins said.

Grassley’s letter also requested a response to allegations by Harvard Medical School students that a Pfizer representative photographed them at a protest they staged against conflicts of interest last fall.

Pfizer has confirmed that a sales representative was at the protest, and that a photograph was taken of Medical School students.

Kerins, the Pfizer spokesperson, told The Crimson that the company “regrets that a photograph of Harvard Medical School students was offensive to anyone involved.”

At the same time, he said, it was “very unfortunate” that the photograph had overshadowed the importance of collaboration between leading companies such as Pfizer and leading academic medical institutions.

David J. Cameron, the Harvard Medical School spokesperson, said that he could not comment on Grassley’s request.

Cameron said that he was present at the student protest last fall but did not know anything about the presence of a Pfizer representative at the time.

“It was a public event, and people outside HMS were invited in,” he said, adding that “a lot of people there were taking pictures.”

Thomas P. Stossel, an HMS professor and long-time proponent of industry in medicine, said that Grassley’s inquiry was “a total waste of time” and an “ongoing publicity stunt.”

“[This] isn’t helping medicine or science, and it’s just getting him attention,” Stossel said.

He added that he believed Grassley and his allies are on a “witch hunt,” and that he thought doctors with pharmaceutical ties were being subjected to embarrassment they do not deserve.

Stossel was also critical of student complaints about the Pfizer photographer at the protest.

“What do they think, that Pfizer is going to come and hire people to break their legs?” he said. “Our students need to be a little more thick-skinned.”

David C. Tian, a first year student at the Medical School who helped organize this fall’s protest, had no comment about Grassley’s request.

Two other student protestors also declined to comment on the Senator’s statement yesterday.

—Staff writer Laura Mirviss can be reached at lmirviss@fas.harvard.edu.

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