Emory University officials say renowned psychiatrist Dr. Charles Nemeroff has agreed to step down as chairman of Emory’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences after 17 years, following an investigation of conflicts of interest.
In addition to losing his chairmanship, Dr. Nemeroff will not be able to apply for NIH grants for at least two years and will need pre-approval from the dean of the medical school for any outside income.
He will, however, remain professor in the psychiatry department, focusing on clinical care and teaching.
In October, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) postponed a $9.3 million research grant to Emory University over allegations that Dr. Nemeroff failed to divulge payments he received from drug maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
Dr. Nemeroff failed to disclose that he received $800,000 from GSK over three years. At the same time he was overseeing a NIH study on five anti-depressants produced by GSK, according to an open letter from Senator Charles Grassley, (R-Iowa) to Emory University in the Congressional Record.
From 2000 to 2007, Dr. Nemeroff allegedly received $2.8 million or more through consulting arrangements with drug makers and failed to report more than $1.2 million of those funds to the university, according to the New York Times.
“I regret the failure of disclosure on my part that has led to the current situation,” Dr. Nemeroff wrote in a statement. “I believe that I was acting in good faith to comply with the rules as I understood them to be in effect at the time."
“While Dr. Nemeroff viewed these talks as educational lectures not subject to disclosure, Emory policies required otherwise. He should have followed Emory policies and sought clarification, if as he later stated, that the policies and regulations were ambiguous,” according to the Emory statement.
“As a Department Chair, especially one who had been under heightened inspection, Dr. Nemeroff should have reported all payments received from Glaxo and other drug companies. The fact that he failed to do so has resulted in the actions that are now being taken,” said Emory School of Medicine Dean, Tom J. Lawley.
The University, at the same time, insists no evidence has been found to suggest Dr. Nemeroff’s outside speaking activities affected clinical care for patients enrolled in clinical trials or that his activities biased scientific research. Dr. Nemeroff contends his lectures were not product-specific, but rather limited to general medical conditions including bipolar disorder and depression.
A review, based on his speaker slides and interviews with attendees at presentations, supports that contention, maintains Emory.
While Emory officials failed to explain why no previous actions were taken against Dr. Nemeroff, the university is supporting – the Physicians Payments Sunshine Act – which requires all drug companies and medical device makers to disclose any payments of value above $500 to physicians.
“Emory’s expeditious and sure-footed response sets an example for other research institutions to follow and for the National Institutes of Health to hold up as the kind of standard it expects from all receiving federal research dollars. Accurate disclosure and transparency are fundamental to the integrity of medical research. Without them, public trust is violated and confidence in the system is legitimately shaken,” said Senator Charles Grassley, who spearheaded the investigation. #