Harvard stir over medical trial pay

June 11, 2004

Harvard Medical School has increased the amount of money its 5,000 full-time faculty can earn from companies that stand to benefit from their research. Other US universities are expected to follow suit.

The amount of stock a faculty member may hold in such companies will increase from $20,000 (£10,900) to $30,000 and the amount of consulting fees and honoraria they may earn will rise from $10,000 to $20,000.

That figure is substantially higher than the $10,000 limit set by the federal government's National Institutes for Health.

Harvard faculty have been pressing for the increase for more than three years. Those demands were put on ice after the death of an 18-year-old subject who took part in a gene-therapy study at Pennsylvania University.

The lead researcher in the study owned stock in a company that stood to benefit from the experiment.

Sheldon Krimsky, a professor of urban and environmental policy at Tufts University and an expert on conflicts of interest, predicts that others will follow where Harvard leads. "I could easily see that once Harvard lowers the bar, then those places that have been contemplating what to do will say, what the heck, we'll do that too."

Citing studies by bioethicists published in the American Journal of Bioethics , he said the financial limits may be too high. "There's research that indicates that even small gifts affect scientists," Dr Krimsky said.

"One cannot argue that $20,000 or $15,000 or $10,000 does not still have an effect on a researcher.

"There's so much money involved in the drug-trial world that unless the institutions take a very tough stand, researchers will line their pockets with as much as they possibly can."

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