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Psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff

Psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff


The Miami Herald
June 10, 2010 Thursday
Senator tells University of Miami he’s `troubled’ over hiring
By JOHN DORSCHNER

Miami Herald
Senator tells University of Miami he’s `troubled’ over hiring

A U.S. senator chastised UM about the head of its psychiatry department, who has been under fire over receiving undisclosed payments from drug companies while doing NIH research at a previous job.

Sen. Charles Grassley has written a strongly worded letter to University of Miami President Donna Shalala saying he is “disturbed\’\’ and “troubled\’\’ by actions surrounding UM\’s hiring of a psychiatrist-researcher under investigation by a federal agency.

The letter from the Iowa Republican, dated Monday, was sparked by a Sunday story in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the relationship between psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff, now head of UM\’s department of psychiatry, and Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, who led a yearlong project to toughen policies against conflict of interest.

On Wednesday, UM issued a brief statement: “The University of Miami is responding to the inquiry from Senator Grassley and will continue demonstrating its unflinching commitment to scientific integrity. UM works tirelessly to advance the quality of its teaching, research, and clinical care programs while maintaining the highest ethical standards in all that we do.\’\’

The National Institute of Health said Insel was unavailable for comment.

Grassley and his staff have been investigating Nemeroff, once head of psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta, because he received millions of dollars from drug companies while doing what was supposed to be impartial research for the National Institutes of Health on drugs made by the companies paying him.

Grassley reported Nemeroff received $2.8 million from GlaxoSmithKline and other drug makers over seven years for promoting drugs like GSK\’s Paxil. Emory eventually asked him to step down as head of psychiatry and suspended his work on major NIH grants.

E-MAILS

The Chronicle story said Insel “quietly helped\’\’ Nemeroff get hired at UM.

In summer 2009, when UM was thinking of hiring Nemeroff, Medical School Dean Pascal Goldschmidt e-mailed Insel saying that Nemeroff had said Insel would be able to provide a “confidential opinion\’\’ on him, according to documents released by the Senate Finance Committee.

Insel responded that he could not provide a formal, written recommendation because of NIH rules, but “I can discuss informally by phone. Happy to do this,\’\’ he wrote in an e-mail.

Goldschmidt told The Herald last fall that he thought Nemeroff was a talented researcher but didn\’t want to hire him if he couldn\’t get NIH funding.

The Chronicle article quotes Goldschmidt as saying Insel assured him that the Emory ban on Nemeroff\’s NIH grant activity for two years didn\’t carry over to Miami, and that Nemeroff would be able to apply for NIH funding as soon as he took his new job.

Goldschmidt was quoted in the Chronicle as saying that the Emory ban on Nemeroff\’s grant activities was due to “political pressure that the university was under.\’\’

SEEKS DOCUMENTS

In Monday\’s letter, Grassley wrote that he was “troubled\’\’ by that comment.

“President Shalala, I hope that you would agree — contrary to Dr. Goldschmidt\’s views that disciplining researchers for failing to disclose conflicts of interest is merely a political issue — that enforcing federal conflict of interest policy involves ethical and legal issues that ensure taxpayer trust.\’\’

Grassley demanded Shalala produce five types of documents concerning Nemeroff, UM and NIH grants.

In last fall\’s Herald story, Goldschmidt called Nemeroff “an exceptional psychiatrist and an exceptional scientist who has one issue in which he recognizes he made a mistake,\’\’ by not informing Emory how much he received from pharmaceutical companies.

In March, UM started a transparent process, in which outside companies\’ pay to UM doctors is now listed on a website. Nemeroff is not listed there because the information concerns the period before he started last fall, the university has said.

Nemeroff told The Herald last fall that he decided in retrospect he should have declared drug makers\’ payments to him, but he thought Emory\’s regulations didn\’t require it.

The Chronicle article includes e-mails, also obtained by The Herald, indicating that Nemeroff and Insel were trying to get together at conventions and had each other\’s cell phone numbers.

When Nemeroff e-mailed Insel that he was taking the UM job, Insel wrote back: “Congrats on a new position! Should be a new beginning.\’\’

Insel told The Washington Post on Tuesday that he didn\’t have “any great relationship\’\’ with Nemeroff, and believed the psychiatrist\’s actions were “so outrageous, he became the poster boy for conflict of interest.\’\’

On Wednesday, Bernard Carroll, former head of psychiatry at Duke University and once Nemeroff\’s boss, told The Herald that he found Insel\’s comments to the Post “disingenuous\’\’ because the two have known each other since the early 1990s and Nemeroff helped Insel find a job at Emory.