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BMJ. 2007 June 9; 334(7605): 1185.
PMCID: PMC1889981

Researcher accused of breaching research ethics faces GMC

A former senior lecturer at the UK Institute of Psychiatry repeatedly breached research ethics guidelines and lied to study sponsors while building an international reputation as a leading researcher, according to charges laid by the General Medical Council.

The GMC's fitness to practise committee heard that Tonmoy Sharma, who left the Institute of Psychiatry as a clinical senior lecturer in 2001, falsely claimed to have sought and received approval from ethics committees for several studies.

He is also accused of recruiting patients by telephone without informing their carers; offering financial inducements to research subjects; breaching agreed research protocols; lying in a job application; posing as a professor; and in one case threatening a patient with withdrawal of treatment if she left a study.

Joanna Glynn, counsel for the GMC, told the hearing that Dr Sharma “was a man who paid little more than lip service to ethical rules in research.”

In four studies, he claimed that his research had ethical permission from the Bethlem and Maudsley Ethical Committee, when none had been given, the charges allege. In another case he is alleged to have falsely told the Alzheimer's Society that he had ethics clearance from the Institute of Psychiatry. On another occasion, he allegedly told Novartis that the Alzheimer's Society was sponsoring his research when it was not.

Dr Sharma is accused of telling both Novartis and Sanofi-Synthelab that studies he was carrying out on their behalf were being carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry with ethics committee approval, when in fact they were carried out at private facilities. He is also accused of using proprietary Novartis data in another study.

In one case, after the Redbridge and Waltham Forest Ethics Committee denied Dr Sharma permission to advertise for research subjects in a local newspaper, he was responsible for an article in the paper that amounted to an advertisement, the charges allege.

In 1999 Dr Sharma was offered the chair in psychiatry at the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at University College, London, subject to completion of his doctorate thesis. He allegedly told superiors for two years that he was handing in chapters, when he had never done so.

He described himself as “Tonmoy Sharma MD PhD” on the website of his company, Psychmed, despite having never obtained a doctorate degree. In 2002 he was invited to speak as a “visiting professor” at Pittsburgh University. From this point he styled himself Professor Sharma, contrary to British academic convention, the GMC alleges.

Ms Glynn told the London hearing, “The evidence reveals that he was and still is a man with considerable entrepreneurial skill with an interest and skill in business. He gained an international reputation, particularly in the United States.”

Dr Sharma's career began to unravel in 2001, said Ms Glynn, when he was suspended from the Institute of Psychiatry after a complaint from the drug company Sanofi-Synthelab. “After the suspension a picture emerged of a doctor who knew the rules of medical research but deliberately took short cuts,” she added.

Dr Sharma denies the charges of unethical, misleading, dishonest, and unprofessional conduct. The case is expected to last until mid-August.


Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group