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On the Board

Some 40 percent of the largest pharmaceutical companies have at least one board member on their board of directors who is also in a leadership position at an academic medical center, researchers led by Walid Gellad from the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and his colleagues report in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week.

"Oversight of potentially intersecting institutional missions, fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, and the magnitude of compensation make board membership by AMC leaders potentially more problematic than other financial relationships between medicine and industry," he and his colleagues write.

Gellad and his colleagues sifted through data from the top 50 largest pharmaceutical companies by prescription drug sales to examine the makeup of their boards and financial compensation; data was available for 47 of the 50 companies.

Of the 17 US-based companies on their list, 94 percent had at least one board member who was also in a leadership position at an academic medical center. In 2012, the board members with academic medical center leadership positions received a mean $312,562 in compensation for their board work.

While the researchers note this apparent conflict of interest, they also say that severing ties between companies and industry may also affect collaboration and partnerships between industry and academia.

"It's up to university ethicists and other university leaders to decide what should happen," Gellad tells News@JAMA. "We need to understand the risks and benefits of these relationships. I think a lot of people are not aware these relationships exist."