The story of Stanford psychiatry chief Alan Schatzberg, his ownership of $6 million in stock in a drug he's investigating, Senator Charles Grassley's letter to the university, and the university's response is too good to miss.
So has psychiatrist Daniel Carlat. Excerpt:
"I do find it incredible that Stanford finds it acceptable for him to serve as the chairman of an academic department. As chairman of psychiatry, Dr. Schatzberg is involved with many decisions having to with hiring staff and funding research. While I have no doubt that he is an ethical person, the fact that he owns $6 million in stocks can never be far from his mind. If it were me, I'd be thinking about it when I woke up in the morning, during my coffee breaks, my meals, and while I was brushing my teeth at night. We're talking $6 million here, people.
He doesn't have the cash yet. He will only be able get it if his company issues a successful IPO, and that will happen only if his drug, mifespristone, looks successful. Here are some problematic possible scenarios. A young professor in his department is up for promotion. But he is researching a medication in direct competition with mifepristone. Dr. Schatzberg has to make a decision, knowing that this could have an eventual impact on his ability to retire with $6 million.
Another scenario. A psychiatry resident has written a wonderful review paper on antidepressants which has been submitted for a departmental award. In it, the resident has concluded that mifepristone is not a promising agent. Schatzberg has to decide who will get the award.
Equally amazing to me is the American Psychiatric Association has no policy forbidding this level of conflict of interest in candidates for APA president. Shatzberg won the most recent election, and will be installed as APA president next May. What will happen if and when Dr. Schatzberg is asked to make decisions regarding the appropriate relationships between the pharmaceutical industry and the organization?
Let Dr. Schatzberg have his pharmaceutical company. But his financial entanglements are far too significant to have him entrusted to positions of leadership at major institutions.
Making tough decisions is part of life, and Dr. Schatzberg needs to decide between being a tycoon and an educator. He can't have it both ways."