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Tonmoy Sharma : NRI Psychiatrist ignored guidelines when testing drugs on volunteers


NRI psychiatrist accused of being a fraud of conducting unethical drug tests on mentally ill patients.

Kent, UK, March 28, 2008
Kuldip Ahuja

NRI Psychiatrist, Tonmoy Sharma senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry in London UK ignored guidelines when testing drugs on volunteers, has been accused of being a fraud and has a warrant out for his arrest.

According to the General Medical Council (GMC) hearing, he recruited people in unsolicited telephone calls without contacting vulnerable patients' psychiatric nurses. The association claims:

  • Dr. Sharma failed to obtain proper approval from ethical committees to conduct a number of major studies. These approvals are a vital component in any trial to protect the patients taking part.
  • He used the same patients as subjects for a number of different studies without telling the drug firms, which had each paid him six-figure sums for what they believed to be unique research.

The GMC representative said:

  • Dr Sharma had put mentally unwell patients at risk and ethical rules had been wilfully flouted.

  • He gained an international reputation, particularly in the United States, for the research he was doing.

  • In spring 2001 he was suspended from the Institute of Psychiatry after a complaint from drug maker Sanofi over a study Dr Sharma was undertaking into schizophrenia. He was reinstated in August 2001.

  • After the suspension, a picture emerged of a doctor who knew the rules understanding medical research but deliberately took short cuts. He was guilty of gross breaches of the research standards.

  • He made untrue statements and eventually the picture which I submit before you was a man who paid little more than lip service to ethical rules in research.

He failed to give details about the tests to the patient or their carers, it is claimed.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry asked the GMC to examine his conduct two years ago after concerns that he had failed to obtain proper approval from ethical committees to conduct the tests.

Dr Sharma pulled in thousands of pounds in research grants for the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, University of London, and from pharmaceutical firms wanting research on their products..

Dr. Sharma is accused of attempting to get data in a drug trial changed as well as of obtaining a free supply of the psych drug Clozaril for a study which he subsequently then sold for tens of thousands of pounds.

Leading drug companies such as Novartis and Sanofi paid him from 1996 to conduct trials of anti psychotic drugs on patients with schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Catherine Baxter, a medical adviser to Sanofi said:

  • In 2001, the fraud allegations against him surfaced when we uncovered alleged financial irregularities surrounding a £250,000 contract it had awarded Sharma.
  • We asked him to conduct a study comparing the effectiveness of its drug Amisulpride with that of a treatment from a rival company, Eli Lilly.

Although Baxter believed the study was to be undertaken at the institute, she became alarmed about a Sanofi cheque for £65,000 that had been paid to Sharma's company. She also became 'extremely concerned' that Sharma appeared not to have received proper ethical approval for the study.

The Company hired private investigators to check Sharma's research activities. The inquiries were led by Peter Jay, a former Metropolitan Police detective chief inspector. When Sharma found out about Jay's investigation he sued him for defamation, claiming the inquiry had unfairly destroyed his reputation. Sharma dropped the case last March for what he said were financial reasons.

The Company claim was that Sharma attempted to get data changed in one study to show that the drug risperidone worked better against schizophrenia than rival conventional treatments.

He was trained in India and a prominent psychiatrist who often appeared on the BBC and wrote books on mental illness.

Dr Sharma taught at one of Britain's most prestigious medical institutes while appearing regularly as an expert on the BBC online. He referred to himself as a professor, when he had not finished the PhD thesis he started at University College, London, in 1989. He was also accused of lying about his academic background. Sharma, who qualified as a doctor in India, describes himself as a professor in the media and in promotional literature for his companies.

He worked as a consultant psychiatrist for the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and recruited patients in Kent and parts of the capital for the research. His position at the institute helped him secure funding worth close to £1m from five drug firms. Most of the money was channelled not through the institute but a private firm he set up called Psychmed. Sharma claims the institute knew about this arrangement and had approved it.

Dr. Tonmoy Sharma has fled the UK for from Assam, India. He failed to answer a summons to appear at Bow Street court in London last February, and a warrant was later issued for his arrest.

Dr. Tonmoy Sharma:

From India, he claimed he had not been aware of the charge nor of the court hearing. He was in India because he was caring for his sick father. He said:

  • He would be happy to come back to Britain to defend himself.
  • He was looking forward to the GMC hearing as an opportunity to tell his side of the story publicly and prove the fault lay with the drug companies.
  • When these allegations first surfaced the Institute of Psychiatry investigated them and exonerated me of any wrongdoing. Sanofi knew this but decided to blame him for mistakes in its administrative and research procedures. 'Everything spiralled from there.
  • About his academic background, he has a letter to prove he was invited by a psychiatry professor at Pittsburgh U to give lectures there as a 'visiting professor'.






Dr Sharma was a prominent psychiatrist who often appeared on the BBC and wrote books on mental illness

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