Many Academic Medical Professors Serve on Health Care Company Boards

Timothy Anderson, M.D. Chief medical resident University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Internal Interview with:
Timothy Anderson, M.D.
Chief medical resident
Department of Internal Medicine
University of Pittsburgh

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Anderson: My coauthors and I analyzed the public disclosures of all publicly traded U.S. health care companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange and New York Stock Exchange in January 2014 that specialized in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical equipment and providing health care services.  Of the 442 companies with publicly accessible disclosures on boards of directors, 180 – or 41 percent – had one or more academically affiliated directors in 2013. These individuals included chief executive officers, vice presidents, presidents, provosts, chancellors, medical school deans, professors and trustees from 85 non-profit academic research and health care institutions. These individuals received compensation and stock shares from companies which far exceeds payment for other relationships such as consulting. In some cases compensation approaches or exceeds average professor and physician salaries.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Anderson: As our analysis shows, many academic leaders and professors in medicine may have significant industry relationships not captured by the Sunshine Act. Often when we talk about conflicts of interest in medicine, we are talking about physicians receiving pens and meals from sales representatives. The stakes are much higher for the board members in our study. Beyond receiving payment, these individual are bound to serve the best interests of their academic institution and the best interest of the company for whom they serve as a director, and this poses a much more complicated conflict of interest. Our goal was not to pass judgement or single out individuals but to start an open discussion about a rarely discussed relationship between non-profit academia and for-profit companies.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Anderson: While fully supporting academic-industry collaboration, it is unclear that these specific types of relationships lead to better outcomes for patients or researchers. Future research might investigate the impact of the relationships we describe on both companies and academic centers. Our study proposes multiple ideas for minimizing the risks of these relationships ranging from capping payments to fully banning these relationships, while allowing academic leaders to serve as uncompensated advisors. We do not expect a one-size-fits-all approach would work in managing these relationships, but we risk undermining the public’s trust if these conflicts of interest are not addressed openly. We encourage future research that helps our profession and the public to understand the financial relationships that exist between doctors, professors and industry, so that we can best determine as a profession how to manage them. 


Timothy S Anderson, Chester B Good. Prevalence and compensation of academic leaders, professors, and trustees on publicly traded US healthcare company boards of directors: cross sectional study. BMJ, 2015 DOI: 1136/bmj.h4826

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Timothy Anderson, M.D. (2015). Many Academic Medical Professors Serve on Health Care Company Boards

Last Updated on September 30, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD