Head of Psychiatry at Brown to Leave as Criticism of Drug Industry Influence Builds
23 Corporate Crime Reporter 15(12), April 13, 2009

Brown University Professor Martin Keller will be stepping down as chair of the psychiatry department, the university announced last week.

The university insists that Keller is leaving for personal reasons.

But Alison Bass has reason to believe it something else. Bass is the author of Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial (Algonquin Books, 2008).

In the book Bass alleges that Keller failed to disclose the millions of dollars he has received over the years from companies whose drugs he was studying and promoting in medical journals and at conferences.

She also alleges that Keller misrepresented data in a clinical trial of GlaxoSmithKline’s drug Paxil to make the antidepressant look safer and more effective than it really was.

In an interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, Bass said that GlaxoSmithKline is now under investigation by federal Department of Justice officials, and Keller himself has been deposed by attorneys in Boston's U.S. attorney's office.

Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has also launched an investigation into drug industry influence in academia. Bass said that Keller is the latest psychiatry kingpin to fall.

Bass said that in recent months, Emory University forced its psychiatry chief Charles Nemeroff to step down and Stanford is looking for a new head to replace Alan Schatzberg after reports that these two prominent psychiatrists, like Keller, failed to disclose years of lucrative financial payments from the pharmaceutical industry.

The use of antidepressants among children and adolescents in the U.S. tripled between 1994 and 2002, to the point where antidepressant drugs were being prescribed more frequently than acne products or eye drops for those under 18.
In 2002 alone, nearly 11 million antidepressant prescriptions were written for children and adolescents in the U.S. and 2.7 million of those prescriptions were for children under 12.

Antidepressant prescriptions continued to increase steadily in 2003 and 2004.

By 2004, worldwide sales of antidepressants reached $20 billion, making them among the world’s best-selling drugs, according IMS Health, a pharmaceutical and consulting company.

Pediatric prescriptions for Paxil doubled between 1998 and 2002 even though there was no evidence the drug performed any better than sugar pills in treating depression in children and adolescents, Bass says.

Paxil became the best-selling antidepressant in the world in 2002, with sales of $3.3 billion worldwide. Approximately 2.1 million prescriptions for Paxil were written for children and adolescents in the U.S. that year. Those pediatric prescriptions translated into $55 million in sales for Paxil’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline.

Bass says that financial ties between the drug industry and medical researchers are widespread. Nine out of ten respondents in a survey of leading medical experts (who had participated in writing national guidelines for the treatment of depression and other health problems) admitted they had some type of financial relationship with a drug company.
Six out of ten acknowledged they had financial ties to companies whose drugs were recommended in the guidelines they crafted, according to a University of Toronto study.

Doctors with such financial conflicts of interest are more likely to prescribe newer and more expensive drugs than doctors who don’t have such conflicts, according to recent studies.

At the same time, researchers with financial ties to the drug industry are also 10 to 20 times less likely to present negative research findings than those without such financial conflicts, according to another study by the Social Policy Research Institute in Illinois.

Bass says she is completing a novel – and will be writing a new non-fiction investigative book soon. She won’t say what it’s about until she finds a publisher. She also writes a blog at her web site –

[For a complete transcript of the Interview with Alison Bass, see 24 Corporate Crime Reporter 15(12), April 13, 2009, print edition only.]

[Note on April 22, 2009: We have heard from Stanford University about Alison Bass' claim that Stanford is looking for a new head to replace Alan Schatzberg after he "failed to disclose years of lucrative financial payments from the pharmaceutical industry." Stanford spokesperson Michelle Brandt says Schatzberg did in fact disclose to both Stanford and the NIH his ties to the industry. "As for Dr. Schatzberg's decision to step down as chair -- he informed the medical school dean of his intent to serve just one more term several years ago - well in advance of Sen. Grassley's assertions and subsequent media coverage," Brandt writes in an e-mail."Ms. Bass may have her own opinion on why Dr. Schatzberg is no longer serving as chair, but it is just that -- an opinion." Apparently, there is disclosure and there is disclosure. Grassley's office says, for example, that Schatzberg did disclose that he owned more than $100,000 in stock in one company. That was technically accurate. But that he didn't disclose that he owned $6 million of stock. Brandt says he did disclose that he owned $6 million worth. But when? We are seeking an interview with someone at Stanford to clarify this issue and will report on that soon.]



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