Pharmalot hits the details, but the gist is that Schatzberg is deeply involved at Corcept Therapeutics, a company for which he is chair of the scientific advisory board and holds a large amount of stock. According to Grassley, he did not disclose some of his stock sale profits or the magnitude of his multimillion dollar stock holdings in the company. Additionally, Schatzberg allegedly underreported income received from other drug companies. It appears that Schatzberg was not really required to disclose some of this information, so according to my brief review of the information, it is quite possible that he has broken no rules. Now, whether the rules need to be changed is a different story. No offense to Grassley, but I was well ahead of him on part of this story, noting in April 2007 that Schatzberg had a mega-conflict of interest going with Corcept. I also noted previously that Schatzberg was on the Zyprexa bandwagon, helping to "educate" fellow physicians about the Lilly wonder drug.
The Real Problem: But amidst all this discussion of conflicts of interest, I am afraid that we are getting a bit diverted from the main problem, that of shoddy science. It is admittedly interesting noting that Schatzberg is somehow supposed to be an independent, disinterested scientist while standing to make an absolute truckload of money if his sponsored product succeeds. But it runs deeper. While Schatzberg is a bigwig at Corcept, let's review how Corcept's main product mifepristone (RU-486; yes, the abortion pill) has done.
Mifepristone (aka Corlux) is intended to work as a treatment for psychotic depression. One main problem: It doesn't relieve depressive symptoms. In multiple trials, it has failed to demonstrate antidepressant properties. The CEO of Corcept and another member of their scientific advisory board have previously tried to spin away such inconvenient data by painting negative results as positive. To give Corcept credit, their scientists are consistent spinmeisters, seemingly always able to dredge a positive from obviously negative findings. Schatzberg has been an author on a couple Corlux-related papers that were shredded by independent analysts, who found statistical problems and overly optimistic interpretations of the study results. As the senior member of the Scientific Advisory Board, I assume that Schatzberg had some input on the other study reports that also overstated the efficacy of Corlux.
Could his millions of dollars in Corcept holdings bias Schatzberg, either subconsciously or overtly? You be the judge. But remember that this is not just about conflicts of interest -- this is about science. There is hard evidence that the research on Corlux, which is tightly linked to Schatzberg, has been misinterpreted for the sake of marketing. Conflicts of interest sometimes lead to bad science, but rather than focus just on conflicts of interest, we need to dig a layer deeper and see the poor science -- the shoddy evidence that is used as the foundation for "evidence based medicine" in many cases.
Note also that David Healy has written an interesting piece on the topic of conflicts of interest and bad science, pointing out that a larger problem is lack of access to company-owned data. Think Paxil and suicide. He concludes:
If I were employed in a company marketing department I would much prefer to have the field think that all that is wrong is that a few corrupt academics fail to declare competing interests than to have the field think that company practices that restrict access to data while still claiming the moral high ground of science are the real source of the problem.I'd love to know what American Psychiatric Association members think about this. The news had already broken about Schatzberg overstating the efficacy of Corlux before he was elected APA president. Do APA members not care that their president has a documented record of putting product promotion before scientific evidence?