Pfizer caught paying off researcher

Believe it or not, another drug researcher has pleaded guilty to accepting consulting fees as well as travel expenses from a drug manufacturer without proper approval. As this UPI article reports:

As part the agreement reached Friday, Pearson Sunderland III, chief of geriatric psychiatry of the National Institute of Mental Health, will be sentenced to two years of supervised probation and must forfeit $300,000, the Baltimore Sun said. Charged with conflict of interest, Sunderland admitted to accepting about $285,000 from Pfizer Inc. without authorization.

The institute is a part of the National Institutes of Health, which has said the arrangements between private companies and agency scientists was the worst scandal in the agency`s history.

NIH officials said more than 40 scientists were thought to have engaged in outside, fee-based relationships with private companies. Most were disciplined internally or retired, agency officials said.

Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., expected to lead the House Energy and Commerce Committee in January, said the case raises questions about NIH management.

‘Sunderland remained on the payroll for years after NIH was given information from this committee about this conflict,’ Dingell said in a statement. ‘Will a criminal conviction for conflict of interest be enough to get someone fired from NIH?’

Roy M. Poses M.D. from the Health Care Renewal blog adds:

In my humble opinion, the only way to start beating back the tide of conflicts of interest that has enveloped health care is to start assuring negative incentives that will outweigh the personal gain or business profits afforded by such conflicts. The conviction of Sunderland is a small, but important step in this regard.

On the other hand, it is unclear how Pfizer can maintain that its actions met “ethical standards” after a recipient of the payments the company made has been convicted of criminal conflict of interest for accepting these payments.

Can you really blame Sutherland for taking bribes from drug reps that look like supermodels? As a commenter on the PharmaGossip blog post Cheerleader Drug Reps – what a magnificent pair puts it: “Whatever they are sellin, we’ll buy.”

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