U adjunct prof’s role in conflict of interest case spurs reviews

The “U” began reviewing its adjunct personnel files two weeks ago.

Nathan Hall

The University is considering whether adjunct professors should be held to the same conflict of interest standards as full-time faculty.

Currently, only full-time faculty members are required to disclose outside sources of income. University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said last week the University might make others do the same after an unpaid University adjunct professor was named in a federal whistleblower case.

According to the court complaint, drug company Parke-Davis allegedly paid Dr. Ilo Leppik to encourage others to prescribe a drug called Neurontin in ways not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

College of Pharmacy Dean Marilyn Speedie said Parke-Davis employed Leppik as a paid consultant between 1994 and 1997. During that time, Leppik also worked as an unpaid University adjunct professor.

“The situation does not present a regulatory violation,” Rotenberg said. “However, we are looking at the policy in terms of possibly revising regulations, including possible further disclosure for adjuncts.”

The University’s Academic Health Center began reviewing its adjunct personnel files two weeks ago.

According to court documents, Parke-Davis paid publisher Associates in Medical Marketing $50,088 for printing and promoting three editions of a Leppik textbook. Speedie said the book is given out free of charge to University neurology students in residency.

Attorney Tom Greene, who is representing whistleblower David Franklin, said Leppik’s consulting work included speaking at continuing medical education seminars sponsored by Parke-Davis.

Franklin is an ex-Parke-Davis employee who accused the company of influencing doctors to prescribe Neurontin for treatments not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“These doctors were total shills Ö mouthpieces for a company that robbed Medicaid blind,” Greene said. He added that Leppik was one of the highest-paid Parke-Davis spokesmen.

Leppik is currently studying epilepsy drugs’ effects on the elderly with a $7 million National Institutes of Health grant.

The grant was received after a University study found antiepileptic drugs were being prescribed to more than 10 percent of nursing home residents, while only 5 percent to 6 percent of the residents actually suffered from epilepsy.

National Institutes of Health spokesman Don Ralbovsky said they will not take action against Leppik.

Two other doctors named in the lawsuit are also associated with top medical schools. Harvard Medical School professor Steven Schacter and former University of Florida professor B.J. Wilder are also accused of speaking illegally on behalf of Neurontin.

Neither Harvard officials nor Schacter’s lawyer would comment on the case. A University of Florida representative said because Wilder was no longer working for the school when the incidents allegedly happened, the school would not investigate.

Neurontin is the 14th-best-selling drug in the world, according to financial Web site www.hoovers.com.

Nathan Hall covers University research and technology and welcomes comments at [email protected]