Following the Money: Gold in Ivory Towers
Written by Editor   
Tuesday, April 01, 2014 12:00 AM

Academics who moonlight for drug companies have faced intense scrutiny in recent years, but new research suggests much larger sums of money are being paid to their bosses -- the leaders of medical schools and hospitals who serve on drug company boards.

Looking at the world's 50 largest drug companies, researchers found that 40% had at least one board member who held a leadership position at a U.S. academic medical center -- including medical school deans, chief executive officers, department chairs, and university presidents.

The average annual compensation from the drug companies was $313,000, according to the paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"These relationships present potentially far-reaching consequences beyond those created when individual physicians consult with industry or receive gifts," the researchers wrote.

"It is a potential conflict of interest that is not often discussed," said senior author Walid Gellad, MD, with the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. "If a pen or a $150 dinner presents a conflict for a doctor, what does it mean if you get $300,000?  I would say this is just the tip of the iceberg," he said.