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Harvard Provost Garber Has Collected $2.7 Million From Pharma Companies Since 2011

University Provost Alan M. Garber '76
University Provost Alan M. Garber '76 By Awnit Singh Marta
By James S. Bikales, Crimson Staff Writer

University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 has collected more than $2.7 million serving on the board of directors for two pharmaceutical companies since being appointed as the University’s chief academic officer in 2011, according to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Exelixis, Inc. and Vertex Pharmaceuticals confirmed that they paid Garber in cash, stocks, and options, which they indicated are normal compensation for board members. They wrote in emailed statements that Garber did not provide any additional services to the firms beyond his board duties.

Garber acknowledged the payments through University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain and reiterated that the payments were limited to his board obligations.

Garber joined Exelixis’s board of directors in January 2005, when he was a professor at Stanford, according to the filings. He has earned a total of $2,346,579 for services on Exelixis’s board over his time with the company, with $1,602,132 of that coming since he moved to Harvard. Exelixis, which is based in Alameda, Calif., primarily develops kidney, liver, and thyroid cancer treatment medicines, according to its website.

He joined the board of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a Boston-based company that develops cystic fibrosis drugs, in June 2017. Vertex paid Garber a total of $1,189,085 between 2017 and 2018, according to the SEC filings. Data for 2019 is not yet available.

Exelixis Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and Investor Relations Susan T. Hubbard wrote in an email that Garber has never received compensation beyond his services as a board member. In addition to monetary compensation, Garber also received compensation for travel and expenses related to attending board meetings.

“As part of his overall compensation, he, like our other board members, have been granted equity in the form of stock options over the years, which is common practice for companies,” Hubbard wrote.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals spokesperson Heather Nichols wrote in an email that Garber receives quarterly cash payments for his board work from the company, as well as stock and option awards.

“Dr. Garber’s payments are the lowest on our board currently,” Nichols wrote.

Garber, who is a licensed physician, also serves as a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

Swain wrote that Garber annually files conflict of interest forms with the Office of General Counsel that acknowledge his service on both companies’ boards.

The University requires its senior officers — including the Provost — to note conflicts that could “compromise or appear to compromise” Harvard’s academic values or business decisions, according to the policy. Such conflicts have the potential to “discredit Harvard’s good name and reputation,” the policy notes.

Any potential conflicts are adjudicated by the Office of General Counsel, in consultation with Secretary to the Harvard Corporation Marc L. Goodheart ’81.

Allen A. Nasseh, a part-time lecturer in Restorative Dentistry and Biomaterials Sciences at Harvard’s School of Dental Medicine, wrote in an email that he also files conflict of interest forms with Harvard to disclose payments he receives from a medical device company.

“It’s actually a very nice and detailed document that aims to discover any conflict of interest in our faculty or staff doing research and making sure outside financial bias is disclosed,” Nasseh wrote.

Nasseh added that he usually receives an email requesting that he fill out the form at the beginning of each academic year. Payments from industry are then discussed regularly on speciality forums and are public knowledge on government databases.

“People in my field are well aware of it,” he wrote.

Payments from pharmaceutical companies to physicians must be reported to the federal government under the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which went into effect in 2013.

Garber came to Harvard in 2011 after 25 years on Stanford’s faculty, where his work focused primarily on health policy economics. He has been re-elected to the Exelixis board every three years since 2005, with his current term set to expire in 2022. His first term on the Vertex Pharmaceuticals board will expire in 2020.

At its annual meeting in June 2017, the Vertex Pharmaceuticals board recommended to voting stockholders that they elect Garber to the board for his “extensive leadership experience and knowledge,” according to SEC filings.

“The insights he has developed as an expert in health care policy and as an advisor to government agencies will provide our board important perspectives on the issues facing our company,” they wrote.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

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