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15 Japanese public med school profs took 10 mil. yen-plus in honoraria from drug firms

A university professor gives a lecture at a seminar organized by a pharmaceutical company, in Nara Prefecture, western Japan, on Dec. 26, 2019. (Mainichi/Go Kumagai, image partially modified)

TOKYO -- At least 15 faculty at Japanese public medical schools received more than 10 million yen each in honoraria from pharmaceutical companies in academic 2018, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

The Mainichi uncovered the lecture payment totals when it tallied thank-you money figures released by 71 companies and affiliates belonging to the Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (JPMA).

The highest honorarium was 22.98 million yen (about $210,000), paid to a Saga University professor who accepted 154 speaking engagements that academic year -- equivalent to three such lectures per week. The 15 professors and associate professors had also received more than 10 million yen each in honoraria in the 2016 school year.

The finding sheds light on medical professors' aggressive engagement in side jobs, despite some universities banning their faculty from taking on other work to top up their salaries -- usually around 10 million yen at national and other public universities. Other universities prohibit their faculty from receiving total honoraria and other fees exceeding their salaries.

As a general rule, professors and other researchers are required to specify the companies that pay them for research presentations and other engagements performed at the firms' request, as part of efforts to avoid collusion. However, the honorarium amounts are not made public.

The Mainichi study covered national, public and private university medical school faculty who had received more than 10 million yen each in lecture and other fees in academic 2016, as reported in an education ministry survey. The Mainichi then tallied up the honoraria paid to academics by 71 JPMA-member firms and subsidiaries in academic 2018, from among figures released by the end of 2019. One company did not permit the use of its data for news reporting.

The Saga University faculty member who topped the side-gig earnings scale, at 22.98 million yen, is followed by a professor at Kagawa University, who received 21.4 million yen, and a Tokushima University professor at 16.75 million yen. An Okayama University professor who took in 15.62 million yen and a Gunma University professor who accepted 15.36 million yen round out the top five. There was at least one professor who received 9.18 million yen from a single pharmaceutical firm.

Of the 15 professors and associate professors, five each specialize in cardiovascular medicine and diabetes, and two are gastroenterologists. Practicing in all these fields apparently entails prescribing large numbers of drugs.

Apart from the 15 faculty, a specially appointed, fixed-term professor at the University of Tokyo also received over 10 million yen in lecture fees. When private universities are included, a total of 32 professors and other instructors had received fees exceeding 10 million yen. These experts have apparently been continuously engaged in these sideline sources of income.

The lectures are presented at events organized by the drug firms and primarily fall on weekends and after hours, as well as on academic conference days. At the events, the professors and other instructors introduce the latest therapeutic methods and other information to doctors in attendance. However, they also speak on the effects of the medications produced by the drug companies that organized the events.

In general, the companies give the instructors honoraria ranging from several tens of thousands of yen to 200,000 yen.

The education ministry is poised to call on universities to review their rules regarding side jobs, as outside work could adversely affect medical school faculty's core job functions including research, education and medical examinations.

(Japanese original by Go Kumagai, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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