Stanford: Pfizer will fund our med school curriculum with 'no strings attached'

Is it possible for one of the world's largest and most influential drug companies to endorse a continuing education program for one of the most well-known universities in the U.S., with no strings attached? We're about to find out, as the Stanford University School of Medicine announced yesterday that it will accept a $3 million grant from pharma giant Pfizer to back a new curriculum. 

On the surface, this deal appears to be exactly the sort of thing that Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) would love to go after. Stanford already felt Grassley's wrath when he went after Dr. Alan Schatzberg, a psychiatrist on the school's faculty who allegedly failed to report his $6 million stake in drug company Corcept Therapeutics. Eventually, Stanford agreed to make public a list of its consulting fees, as well as other income received by faculty from any businesses. The school also agreed to report any income over $5,000 that is received from any single commercial entity. 

However in the case of Schatzberg, Grassley claimed that he never disclosed the money he received. Here, it appears that Stanford is adhering to its new rules limiting drugmaker financing by not only coming clean about it up front, but also by asking Pfizer to contribute money that can be used for anything, even classes that "might not mention their products at all." 

Under conditions of the the grant, Stanford will create the curriculum, with Stanford faculty selecting the topics and designing the curriculum "independent of the relationship with industry," Robert Jackler, associate dean for continuing medical education, said in a statement. The Pfizer grant comes with no conditions, and the company will not be involved in developing the curriculum, he said.

"We sought not to prevent partnerships with industry, but rather to redefine it," Jackler said. 

Still, some, like Harvard Professor Emeritus Arnold Relman, have criticized the move. "[I]t's just not a good idea for a profession that says it wants to be independent and trusted, a reliable source of information to the profession and the public about drugs, to take money from the drug company under any conditions," he told the New York Times

To learn more about the new partnership:
- check out this press release
- read this New York Times article