Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Nemeroff Affair

The Charles Nemeroff/Tom Insel affair is noteworthy for a few reasons.

1. If there are clear rules, there are no excuses

2. People in high places do really stupid things, so companies need to be concerned about good Thought Leader management practices.

3. Situations like these make it more difficult for companies to navigate the current conflict of interest issue, so understand what is happening in the marketplace around you and have plans to adapt to those conditions.

To recap: If you’ll recall, psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff, former chair of Emory University’s school of medicine’s psychiatry department, left Emory under less than auspicious circumstances. While there, he was receiving NIH funding – but was also getting lots of funding from pharmaceutical companies for speaker services – a major faux pas under NIH regulations. After a U.S. Senate Finance Committee embarrassed Emory with the information, Emory more than slapped Nemeroff’s hands. It told its star M.D. he could not apply for any grants for two years. For his part, Nemeroff claimed the conflict of interest rules were ambiguous.

Enter Insel, the National Institute of Mental Health director, and a former Nemeroff colleague at Emory. Insel received a call regarding Nemeroff from a potential employer, the University of Miami – which obviously wanted a reference. Insel did speak with Pascal Goldschmidt, dean and senior VP of the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine at UM. But what was said?

Insel’s actions have a lot of people scratching their heads -- considering the current climate --  so much so that Insel wrote about it on his blog. Insel claims that all he did was answer a question about whether Nemeroff could apply for grants – but Goldschmidt easily could have gotten that information elsewhere, and Insel admits that he should have sent Goldschmidt elsewhere for the answer.

The U of M says it will keep an eye on Nemeroff. “There will be particular scrutiny of his activities to protect him and the institution and to [make] sure there is no bias in his work,” said Goldschmidt.

The take-home lessons here: Industry needs to manage its Though Leader relationships much closer and adapt to what will certainly be an ever-changing set of rules, regulations, and market conditions.

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