Managing Conflicts of Interests in its Interactions with Industry

A look at how Partners HealthCare handles interactions with industry to carry out its academic missions.

Interactions with industry are essential to allowing Partners HealthCare to carry out its academic missions, but the financial interests that result must be carefully considered to avoid biases in patient care, research, and education. For decades Partners HealthCare has operated under a faculty-led system for assessing and managing collaborations where industrial interests might create a situation, or the appearance of one, that could call into question the integrity of research results or patient care decisions. The system has resulted in policies developed by Partners HealthCare and by the Harvard Medical School (HMS), which has a conflict of interest policy that applies to all Partners HealthCare staff with HMS faculty appointments. The policy framework is constantly evolving, and a handful of changes have been made in the last year. “These policies and processes need to be, and are, constantly re-examined to make sure we have the right balance,” says Christopher Clark, Director, Partners HealthCare Office for Interactions with Industry. “We want to make sure that our policies protect against bias, but at the same time support establishing industry relationships.” Partners HealthCare recently worked with the Harvard team on extensive changes in the HMS Conflict of Interest (COI) policies, which were refined to narrow the circumstances in which an investigator becomes subject to the HMS “I(a) rule,” and to ensure that research performed on off-patent generic drugs will not typically trigger that rule. Two requirements were eliminated entirely: The new HMS COI policies no longer require a 6-month waiting period between the end of a financial relationship with a company and the commencement of clinical research, and HMS faculty are no longer required to complete both an annual Partners HealthCare financial interest disclosure form and an annual HMS form. Changes on the Partners HealthCare side include the elimination of a policy that prevented clinical research at a Partners HealthCare hospital when Partners HealthCare held equity in the company. In addition, policies that address company-paid speaking engagements, limited compensation for certain types of outside activities, and various other policies and processes have been re-examined and, in some cases, modified. “Most relationships that involve ‘a conflict' can and do go forward, with management,” Clark explains. “Generally, our goal is to support the creation of relationships with industry by managing situations that present conflicts, through disclosures and other necessary steps.” For more information on these policies and the recent changes, please contact the Partners HealthCare Office for Interactions with Industry at 617-643-7752 or