The trickle of incriminating evidence against Dr. Joseph Biederman, a Harvard world-renowned child psychiatrist known for his advocacy of “pediatric bipolar disorder,” has turned into a torrent — of emails and internal documents.
The New York Times reports, based upon the release of court documents containing internal documents and emails, that Dr. Biederman was allegedly paid by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) for his promotion of pediatric bipolar disorder and research into showing the efficacy of a drug used to treat it, Risperdal.
Lots of good reporting on this today, so let’s start with The Philadelphia Inquirer’s take:
Johnson & Johnson gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to a research center run by an influential child psychiatrist explicitly to generate data to help expand sales of the company’s antipsychotic drug Risperdal in children, according to court documents. […]
The court papers show Johnson & Johnson’s Titusville, N.J.-based subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutica:
- Budgeted $6.4 million to hold “educational summits” and sponsor advisory panels in part to counter negative media reports on the research, diagnosis and treatment of children with mental illness;
- Was actively involved in drafting research that Biederman was to present at a medical conference and asked him how to deal with unfavorable research results suggesting that a placebo worked as well as Risperdal;
- Discussed clinical trials for drugs as “growth opportunities” and tied trial proposals to sales potential.
Wow. Talk about going after a “market opportunity” (namely, children). Here’s the most damning quote from the New York Times article:
A 2002 annual report for the center stated that its research must satisfy three criteria: improve psychiatric care for children, have high standards and “move forward the commercial goals of J&J,” according to court documents.
“We strongly believe that the center’s systematic scientific inquiry will enhance the clinical and research foundation of child psychiatry and lead to the safer, more appropriate and more widespread use of medications in children,” the report stated. “Without such data, many clinicians question the wisdom of aggressively treating children with medications, especially those like neuroleptics, which expose children to potentially serious adverse events.”
A February 2002 e-mail from Georges Gharabawi, a Johnson & Johnson executive, stated that Dr. Biederman approached the company “multiple times to propose the creation” of the center. “The rationale of this center is to generate and disseminate data supporting the use of risperidone in” children and adolescents, the e-mail stated.
Johnson & Johnson gave the center $700,000 in 2002 alone, documents show.
Basically what the emails show is that Biederman apparently single-handedly started the center with primary funding from J&J to promote two goals: the advocacy of the pediatric bipolar diagnosis and the use of powerful antipsychotic drugs — drugs mostly not approved by the FDA for use in children — to treat this disorder.
Biederman is still chief of the Johnson & Johnson Center for Pediatric Psychopathology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Unsurprisingly, nobody was much interested in talking today when reached for comment.
What remains absolutely astounding (and a little bit scary) is the unprecedented and massive scope of this deception, including not only a renowned Harvard psychiatrist and researcher, but a huge, respected company (J&J), a world-famous university (Harvard), and an amazing, well-respected teaching hospital, Massachusetts General.
Were all of these prestigious organizations simply duped by Biederman? Or was Biederman duped into shilling for a pharmaceutical company’s product, thinking none of this would ever become public knowledge?
Hard to say at this point. But if this doesn’t make every university and pharmaceutical company take a long, hard look at their research, educational and miscellaneous funding programs, I’m not sure what will.
Read the NY Times article: Research Center Tied to Drug Company
Read the Philadelphia Inquirer article: J&J gave money in return for positive drug studies
Read Furious Seasons’ take: Harvard Child Psychiatrist Worked Closely With J&J