A UT System researcher’s ties to drug firms is questioned
12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, May 9, 2009
By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN Ã¢â‚¬” An influential U.S. senator has told a federal investigator that a University of Texas System researcher may not have properly disclosed her financial relationship with a drug company.
The inspector general at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could launch an inquiry into the scientist, UT child pharmacology researcher Karen Wagner.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to the University of Texas System in September raising concerns that Wagner had not properly disclosed her financial connections with drug companies. He reported her in a letter to the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General on Tuesday.
The university system has not disciplined Wagner. But Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Barry Bergdorf said she has been under investigation for the last two weeks. Wagner will remain at work throughout the investigation, he said, and the UT Board of Regents has been notified.
“We’ve taken all reasonable steps and will continue to do so,” Bergdorf said. The fact that Grassley made the report to the inspector general “is probably of concern to Dr. Wagner.”
A woman who answered the phone at Wagner’s office said she was attending a conference and was not available to talk.
Grassley’s research into doctor-drug company connections has helped spark a national debate over the influence big pharmaceutical companies wield in medical research. He has filed a federal bill to force drug companies to report gifts, travel and payments to doctors, legislation Texas lawmakers are considering Ã¢â‚¬” but appear unlikely to pass Ã¢â‚¬” on a state level.
According to Grassley’s research, GlaxoSmithKline paid Wagner, who is the director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, more than $160,000 between 2000 and 2005. She reported just $600 to UTMB.
During two of those years, she worked on a major study on the company’s drug Paxil Ã¢â‚¬” research that has been widely criticized for over-promoting positive findings while downplaying heightened suicidal thoughts and behavior in adolescents.
UTMB didn’t require researchers to report outside income until 2002. But since 1995, the National Institutes of Health has required researchers who receive federal grants to keep financial disclosures on file with their universities. Wagner has received such grants, Grassley says, and as such, should’ve reported her income.
Grassley’s letter also includes several research proposals filled out by Wagner during those years where she said she had no financial interest in the drug companies she was working with.