Columbia enacts financial conflicts of interest policy

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Columbia University is the latest educational institution to issue guidelines that require faculty members to report any conflicts of interest they might have related to research that they publish. The announcement comes in the wake of increased scrutiny by the federal government in the past several months of researchers' and their financial ties to drug companies and medical device manufacturers.

In October 2008, Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Herb Kohl, (D-WI) looked into the relationship between 22 Columbia professors and device companies.

Columbia sent the guidelines via e-mail to faculty and staff members. The new policy requires individuals to report to the university all financial interests in businesses that fund the individual's research, supply products or technology that are the subject of such research.

The Columbia policy defines financial interest as an interested business or any other financial interest that would reasonably appear to be affected by the outcome of the research at issue, held or received by an individual or his or her family.

The new policy will require that each individual faculty member report to the university all of his/her financial interests at least annually on a form and in a manner approved by the executive vice president for research. Failure to comply with the policy could result in dismissal from the university.

According to the National Science Foundation, Columbia spent about $546 million on research in fiscal year 2007. Recently Johns Hopkins announced a policy that will limit industry interaction with its school of medicine. Industry-funded meals, drug samples and gifts to individuals will be off limits to Johns Hopkins faculty and staff effective July 1, 2009.

Stanford University's School of Medicine adopted a policy that will publicly disclose pharma industry payments to its faculty and staff if these payments exceed $5,000 per year.

Recently, hospitals affiliated with Harvard University's Medical School adopted conflict-of-interest rules designed to eliminate gifts from drug companies.

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