Senator's Letter Prompts Statement from Pfizer
Thu, 03/05/2009 - 3:58am
By ERICA WERNER Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican senator's pointed questions about why a Pfizer Inc. employee was photographing a Harvard medical student protest drew a statement of regret Wednesday from the drug company. Pfizer stopped short of an apology, saying only that it regrets if anyone was offended when a company sales representative photographed medical students protesting pharmaceutical company influence on campus. The drug-maker offered no explanation for why the photos were taken. "This unfortunate incident has overshadowed the importance of collaboration between industry and leading academic medical institutions," Pfizer said. Pfizer also had no immediate answers for Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, about payments the company made to 149 Harvard Medical School faculty members and doctors. A spokesman for the medical school said there was nothing unusual in the quantity or substance of the payments, which he said were generally for routine practices such as speeches and consulting. Spokesman David Cameron said that out of more than 8,000 Harvard Medical School faculty members and doctors filing required financial disclosure forms, just 149 reported any payments from Pfizer. But Grassley, who has concluded through past investigations that physicians don't always properly disclose their relationships with pharmaceutical companies, asked Pfizer to reveal details on all the payments. Grassley, the Senate Finance Committee's top Republican, also told the company in a letter — first reported Wednesday by The New York Times — that the photographing incident "does raise concerns that Pfizer is attempting to intimidate young scholars from professing their independent views." The senator previously has investigated pharmaceutical company influence on Harvard doctors who in some cases allegedly failed to report payments from drug makers even while promoting certain medical treatments. A Harvard Medical School investigation of three cases is ongoing, said Cameron, the spokesman. The protest in question was held in October and involved about 50 Harvard medical students, some of whom noticed someone taking photos with their cell phones. They asked him who he was and he said he worked for Pfizer but didn't identify himself. Company spokesman Ray Kerins declined to comment beyond the company's statement to address who the employee was, whether he was acting under orders from the company and whether he was facing any disciplinary action. "We continue to believe that Pfizer's practices with respect to its interactions with medical universities are wholly appropriate and are in compliance with industry standards and the law," the statement said. The company said it would cooperate fully with Grassley's request for information. Pfizer last month announced it would make public its compensation of U.S. health care professionals for consulting, speaking engagements and clinical trials. Meanwhile, Harvard Medical School has convened a new committee to review the medical school's policies on integrity and conflict of interest, Cameron said. The committee is set to meet for the first time Thursday.