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Harvard Affiliates Protest at Tufts for ‘Pharma Fools Day’

By Sruthi L. Muluk, Crimson Staff Writer

Students from the College and Harvard Medical School joined medical students from Tufts University and members of activist groups to stage a die-in Friday in front of the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development, claiming a recent study from a professor there is biased.

About two dozen protesters demanded that Joseph A. DiMasi, an associate professor at Tufts, disclose the specific names of the pharmaceutical companies that fund his research. The study, which DiMasi led and published in March, claims that it costs $2.87 billion, in 2013 dollars, to develop each new drug. A previous study he led in 2007 claimed it was $1.2 billion, in 2005 dollars.

“DiMasi’s figures are used by pharmaceutical companies to preserve the status quo and their bottom line,” a press release for the protest read, claiming his relationship with the pharmaceutical companies presents a conflict of interest for his research.

Apart from Harvard and Tufts students, protesters at the Tufts center included members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, an activist group advocating for rights to essential medicines for diseases including AIDS and Hepatitis B.

In an emailed response to protest organizers, DiMasi wrote that the studies do not imply an association between research expenses and the high cost of drugs.

“Our paper not only does not explicitly link [research and development] costs to price setting,” he wrote, “it does not do so implicitly either.”

According to Christopher Noble, a representative of the AIDS advocacy groups ACT UP Boston, while the financial disclosure statement on the Tufts center’s website says 40 percent of its funding comes from the pharmaceutical industry, the specific names of the companies are not disclosed.

“At the beginning of every lecture that we have when we have a guest lecturer, they always have a slide that says, ‘These are my conflicts of interest,’” Rolvix Patterson, a student at Tufts University School of Medicine who attended the protest, said. “We would hope that Tufts would hold industry leaders like the people at the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development to the same standards that we hold our medical professors.”

Kenneth I. Kaitin, the center’s director and a professor at Tufts, said it was not the center’s policy to disclose specific names of pharmaceutical companies.

“If there was a question about who supports the CSDD I think that that is adequately described, not only in the paper he published, but on our website, so I’m not sure what else is required,” he said, referring to the center’s acronyms.

The protest was part of a larger movement against large pharmaceutical companies called “Pharma Fools Day,” and protests took place in 12 cities around the world, including London, Johannesburg, Sydney, and New Delhi, according to movement's website.

“The overall message [of all the protests] is that pharmaceutical company greed is killing patients,” Justin Mendoza, a new ACT UP member, said. ACT UP organized the protests with support from more than 25 other health advocacy groups.

Protesters gathered at the Tufts Medical Center, came up with chants, and distributed signs, according to Patterson. They then walked over to the the drug development center while chanting.

Once there, they staged a die-in which symbolized the notion that people are dying because they cannot access medicine, according to Shayla B. Partridge ’18, a member of Global Health and AIDS Coalition who attended the protest. GHAC is a student group at the College.

Staff writer Sruthi L. Muluk can be reached at sruthi.muluk@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @SruthiMuluk.

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