Paul Jacobs, spent six months investigating financial ties between Stanford University’s 700 faculty members and the bio-tech-medical products industry, who simultaneously received substantial grants from the NIH.
His report (the cover story) confirms that conflicts of interest cannot be contained by mere disclosure—which in any case fails to disclose $$ mounts. The report confirms the implausibility of self-enforced policies which fly in the face of human nature. Indeed, Stanford’s written conflict of interest policy notwithstanding, financial ties between industry and senior Stanford scientists, deans, and administrators are substantial and pervasive. http://www.mercurynews.com/multimedia/mercurynews/news/stanford_conflict_of_interest_070906.pdf
• The Mercury News investigation found 299 potential conflicts of interest related to faculty’s research.
• More than a third of the school’s administrators, department heads and other leaders — at least 26 out of 67 reviewed by the Mercury News — have reported outside financial interests related to their research within the last four years. These are scientists who are role models for junior faculty members and graduate students.
• Perhaps most important, seven of the 10 members of the school’s conflicts of interest committee, which is responsible for enforcing the rules, have financial relationships with medical companies.
“What is happening at Stanford is not unique. Critics say conflicts pervade much of the nation’s academic research. The rewards for researchers range widely, from a few thousand dollars in consulting fees to millions of dollars in founders stock or options.”
Indeed, the report reveals that often as not, NIH grant disclosure requirements are violated: “The National Institutes of Health has strict rules requiring universities to monitor and report financial conflicts of interest, but the sprawling federal agency does little to enforce those rules. Instead, it leaves the schools — which receive billions of taxpayer dollars in NIH research funding each year — to police themselves.
NIH doesn’t maintain reliable statistics on the number of conflicts reported by universities that receive its grants. And it does not routinely ask schools to explain how they resolve the financial conflicts they do report.
It is largely a `don't ask don't tell' scenario,'' said Dr. Edward Greg Koski, former director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office of human research protections.”<br /><br />Stanford “itself failed to report several large conflicts to the government as required, an error that has since been corrected. The potential risks posed by industry ties are significant. Financial conflicts can turn campus laboratories funded by taxpayer money into outposts of corporate research. They can divert researchers from work that might have a bigger impact on health toward research with bigger financial rewards. And in the worst cases, they can blind scientists to the dangers of treatments they are studying, resulting in injury or even death among volunteers.”<br /><a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/living/education/15000020.htm">http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/living/education/15000020.htm</a> <br /><br />Thus, a profit-centered business mentality has supplanted the culture of public service within the academy corroding the very essence and the raison d’être of the university. We believe that financial conflicts of interest pose a threat to public safety while contaminating the integrity of the academy, the science and the scientists.<br /><br />To its credit, however, Stanford stands in sharp contrast to, say, the University of Toronto in Canada, or the University of Sheffield in the UK, both of who had caved under pressure from industry and punished its faculty members—Dr. Nancy Olivieri, Dr. David Healy, Dr. Aubrey Blumsohn—for refusing to be silent when they discovered drug-induced harm. <br /><br />Stanford president John Hennessy “said he's proud that Stanford faculty member Dr. Gurkirpal Singh, a paid consultant to Merck, began pointing out the risks of Vioxx early on and that Singh's university boss, Dr. James Fries, refused to buckle under pressure from a Merck executive to silence Singh.” See: http://www.ahrp.org/infomail/05/06/vioxxNPR060905.php<br /><br />The case graphically demonstrates how tainted journal reports affect patient safety: the authors of the Vioxx trial report published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2000) omitted negative data on increased heart attacks. All 11 authors are university-affiliated and had financial ties to Merck. <br /><br />Is the public financial support for commercial medicine money well spent?<br />To gain insight about industry’s influence on medicine requires investigations of the major institutions’ financial ties and performance.<br /><br />Where are the courageous reporters who will investigate the financial ties of scientists at other major institutions that receive huge financial subsidies from taxpayers—and shed light on how these ties affect scientific standards as well as criteria for faculty promotion? <br /><br />Are Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Johns Hopkins…et al, off limits to investigative reporters?<br /><br />The New York Times hasn’t even seen fit to report the facts uncovered by the Los Angeles Times, followed by congressional investigations, involving senior scientists who have accepted substantial sums of money from drug and other medical product manufacturers while employed at the National Institutes of Health! <br /><br />Such reportorial reticence is a disservice to the American public.<br /><br />1. Search AHRP website and google for links reports about Olivieri, Healy, Blumsohn--three prominent cases revealing how universities have sacrificed academic freedom, scientific integrity, and medical ethics as the price for corporate sponsorship.<br /><br />2. Comparison of Upper Gastrointestinal Toxicity of Rofecoxib and Naproxen in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis by Claire Bombardier, M.D., Loren Laine, M.D., Alise Reicin, M.D., Deborah Shapiro, Dr.P.H., Ruben Burgos-Vargas, M.D., Barry Davis, M.D., Ph.D., Richard Day, M.D., Marcos Bosi Ferraz, M.D., Ph.D., Christopher J. Hawkey, M.D., Marc C. Hochberg, M.D., Tore K. Kvien, M.D., Thomas J. Schnitzer, M.D., Ph.D., for The VIGOR Study Group, NEJM, Vol. 343:1520-1528<br /><br />3. See: <a href="http://www.ahrp.org/infomail/03/12/07.php;">http://www.ahrp.org/infomail/03/12/07.php;</a> <a href="http://www.ahrp.org/infomail/05/01/31.php">http://www.ahrp.org/infomail/05/01/31.php</a> ;<a href="content/view/282/27/"> http://www.ahrp.org/cms/content/view/282/27/</a> <br /> <br />Mercury News invites your comments: <a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/">http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/</a> <br /><br />Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav<br />firstname.lastname@example.org<br />~~~~~~~<br /><br /><a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/15000000.htm">http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/15000000.htm </a> <br /><strong>Mercury News <br />STANFORD<br />Sun, July 09, 2006<br />By Paul Jacobs<br /><br />See also: Federal rules often unenforced SCHOOLS ARE LEFT TO POLICE THEMSELVES<br /><a href="http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/living/education/15000020.htm">http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/living/education/15000020.htm</a> <br /></strong><br />The proliferation of ties between medical companies and Stanford University<br />School of Medicine has enriched the school and fattened the personal bank<br />accounts of many of its prestigious faculty members. Dozens of professors<br />moonlight for medical firms or have founded companies based on their<br />government-funded research. In the 2004-05 academic year alone, $38 million<br />in royalties poured into the university from medical school discoveries --<br />roughly $10 million of which went directly to faculty researchers whose<br />discoveries were patented.<br /><br />Critics worry that these complex financial and ethical relationships between<br />companies and the nation's premier research universities are corrupting<br />science and producing overly enthusiastic portraits of new treatments. We
had trust. We expected American academic research to be focused on improving
public health,” said Vera Sharav, founder of the Alliance for Human
Research Protection and a critic of corporate influence on medical research.
“We no longer have reason to think that. . . . Money has turned academia
into just another corporate entity.”
In a six-month examination of the financial ties between Stanford
researchers and companies trying to market new treatments, the Mercury News
• The school’s 700-plus faculty members last year disclosed 299 potential
conflicts of interest related to their research, according to figures
provided by Stanford.
• Potential conflicts occur throughout the school’s ranks. More than a third
of the school’s administrators, department heads and other leaders — at
least 26 out of 67 reviewed by the Mercury News — have reported outside
financial interests related to their research within the last four years.
These are scientists who are role models for junior faculty members and
• Perhaps most important, seven of the 10 members of the school’s conflicts
of interest committee, which is responsible for enforcing the rules, have
financial relationships with medical companies.
Unlike a comparable committee at the University of California-San Francisco,
Stanford’s panel includes no outside volunteers.
What is happening at Stanford is not unique. Critics say conflicts pervade
much of the nation’s academic research. The rewards for researchers range
widely, from a few thousand dollars in consulting fees to millions of
dollars in founders stock or options.
The medical school’s dean, Dr. Philip A. Pizzo, says its standards for
dealing with conflicts are
the most rigorous'' in the country. But he also<br />says ties to industry are necessary if the university is to translate its<br />research into practical treatments for patients.<br /><br />Paul Costello, the medical school's chief spokesman, notes that consulting<br />with industry is not necessarily a conflict.Stanford permits and makes
time for faculty to interact with industry, but consulting with industry is
not the same as a conflict,” he said.
However, the school’s rules — which are in some ways tougher than policies
at other leading research universities — are not as simple as they appear.
The school itself failed to report several large conflicts to the government
as required, an error that has since been corrected.
The potential risks posed by industry ties are significant. Financial
conflicts can turn campus laboratories funded by taxpayer money into
outposts of corporate research. They can divert researchers from work that
might have a bigger impact on health toward research with bigger financial
rewards. And in the worst cases, they can blind scientists to the dangers of
treatments they are studying, resulting in injury or even death among
Wild, wild West
With its 700-plus faculty members, Stanford University School of Medicine is
small compared to other top research schools in the country. The University
of California-San Francisco faculty, for example, is almost triple its size.
But as Stanford likes to point out,
pound for pound'' it ranks among the<br />very best, gathering more federal research funding per investigator than any<br />other medical school, except for the much smaller University of Utah.<br />The university as a whole also ranks among the very best at turning faculty<br />discoveries into cash. Stanford was third among U.S. universities in royalty<br />and patent licensing revenue in a 2004 survey by the Association of<br />University Technology Managers. Most of that income -- about 80 percent --<br />came from the medical school.<br /><br />Because it is part of a private university, the medical school is not<br />required to reveal details of its faculty's corporate relationships or the<br />specifics of how it enforces rules on conflicts of interest. The school did,<br />however, provide overall statistics covering a single year.<br />Those numbers revealed the total number of potential conflicts disclosed in<br />the 2005 academic year and show that more than a third involved clinical<br />trials, which include research that could pose risks to volunteers.<br /><br />Of the almost 300 studies at Stanford listed on the government's clinical<br />trials Web site, a fourth are sponsored by industry -- mostly drug giants<br />like Pfizer, Novartis and Bristol-Myers Squibb. While that figure is larger<br />than some of Stanford's competitors, it is in line with other top research<br />schools like Harvard, Yale and UCLA.<br />Among the financial relationships pieced together from scientific articles,<br />public presentations, company filings and federal documents are the<br />following cases:<br /><br />One researcher has founded six companies, most based on research that came<br />out of his own lab. He is a managing partner of a venture capital firm<br />focused on medical research and sits on the boards of several other<br />companies. His role at the venture company was approved by the dean several<br />years ago because he has no day-to-day management responsibilities. The<br />researcher is a member of the school's conflict of interest committee.<br /><br />One senior associate dean started a biotech company based on her federally<br />sponsored lab work.<br />And the physician who until January chaired the department of gynecology and<br />obstetrics is a longtime director of Wyeth, which manufactures controversial<br />hormone replacement therapy for women -- therapy she defended in 2002 when<br />potentially serious health risks were emerging.<br /><br />In each case, the faculty members publicly disclosed the relationships. But<br />the examples show why Stanford and other California schools have been<br />referred to as part ofthe wild West” where conflicts are thought to be
more common than at Eastern medical centers.
There is a perception that things get looser the further West you go,''<br />said National Institutes of Health bioethicist, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who has<br />raised the issue in talks at Stanford. I’m not really sure where this
wild West idea came from,” said Dr. Harry B. Greenberg, a senior associate
dean for research.
Very early on, Stanford has been associated with a lot<br />of entrepreneurial activity and people may have equated the ability to carry<br />out entrepreneurial activity with lack of oversight and regulation. I really<br />don't think that has been the case.'' Greenberg holds stock options in and<br />is a consultant to MedImmune, which makes an influenza vaccine he is<br />studying under a federal grant.<br /><br />Rules tougher<br />The primary role of a medical school remains training physicians and<br />scientists, and university teaching hospitals provide some of the highest<br />levels of patient care. They have also become leading centers for discovery<br />of the causes and treatment of disease.<br />Stanford's policy on conflicts has become tougher in recent years, going<br />beyond the minimum required by the National Institutes of Health, which last<br />year sent $295 million to the med school.<br />The new restrictions were prompted by controversies on other campuses, in<br />particular the death of an Arizona teenager in a gene therapy experiment at<br />the University of Pennsylvania in 1999. Both the university and a researcher<br />had financial conflicts involving a company that stood to gain if the<br />experiment succeeded.<br /><br />Pizzo, who became dean five years ago after a long career at Harvard and<br />NIH, also cites the controversy over the anti-arthritis drug Vioxx as an<br />example of why Stanford and others are tightening their rules. The pill was<br />pulled from the market by the drug company Merck in September 2004 after a<br />study showed it increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes.<br /><br />Last year, editors of the New England Journal of Medicine accused the<br />authors of one November 2000 Vioxx study of withholding data on heart<br />attacks -- data the authors later said fell outside their review period. All<br />11 university-affiliated authors of the article -- none from Stanford -- had<br />financial ties to Merck, which they disclosed.<br />At Stanford there has been a continued level of scrutiny about this,”
We need to do all we can as an academic medical center to<br />value and in some ways re-earn the public trust, which I think has been lost<br />and altered over the last 20 to 30 years.''<br /><br />The university limits the amount of time faculty members can devote to<br />outside work to one day a week, requires prompt reporting of new financial<br />conflicts, and in December 2002 decided to give up its own equity holdings<br />in any company that tests treatments on campus.<br />The university bars faculty members from holding outside jobs with<br />management responsibilities: They can't be chief executives or chief medical<br />officers, although serving on boards of directors or advisory boards is<br />permitted. At the medical school, all stock holdings, options or income<br />related to research -- no matter how small -- must be reported. This is a<br />stricter standard than applies to the rest of the university.<br /><br />First of all, you’re talking about people’s lives and health as opposed to
some new IT thing,” said Stanford President John Hennessy.
To the extent<br />that there is any bias or inappropriate influence that enters the system,<br />you worry about it a lot more than you might if you're talking about some<br />information technology.''<br /><br />Hennessy said he's proud that Stanford faculty member Dr. Gurkirpal Singh, a<br />paid consultant to Merck, began pointing out the risks of Vioxx early on and<br />that Singh's university boss, Dr. James Fries, refused to buckle under<br />pressure from a Merck executive to silence Singh. An attorney for Merck said<br />the company has adifferent interpretation” of the conversation with
Fries. The attorney has also said in the past that the company does not try
to silence critics.
Still, Hennessy said he worries that a patient death linked to a conflict of
interest, no matter where it happened, could have a chilling effect that
would block academic researchers from working with companies to turn
discoveries into products that help sick people.
Pizzo notes that medical schools throughout the country are under financial
pressure to come up with new sources of revenue. At Stanford, medical
faculty are expected to cobble together much of their own salaries from
government and private grants, their work as physicians, and gifts and
contributions, including money from industry.
Royalties from inventions help. After expenses, a third of that money goes
to the inventors, a third goes to their departments and a third goes to the
medical school. Last year, the med school netted $10 million.
We value our<br />faculty being entrepreneurial,'' Pizzo said.We value the fact that we
have been able to bring discoveries that have fostered the biotechnology
community around us, and we value it because that is a way of accelerating
delivery of discovery from the academic community to the patients.
I don't<br />think we as a matter of principle believe that conflict of interest is <br />avoidable,'' said Pizzo, echoing the faculty handbook.We think it’s
Dr. Marcia Angell, a former editor in chief of the New England Journal of
Medicine, disagrees. Medical researchers, she said, can avoid conflicts, but
they can't manage them. . . . You wind up saying to the public, which<br />generously funded the research, caveat emptor. That is not a reassuring<br />message from people whose stock in trade is impartiality.''<br /><br />Entrepreneurial history<br />Histories of Stanford trace the university's close ties to industry to the<br />efforts of Frederick Terman, a professor and later dean of engineering.<br />Among Terman's students in the 1930s were William Hewlett and David Packard,<br />who went on to found their own company and germinate what became Silicon<br />Valley. Terman is also credited with pushing for the university-owned<br />Stanford Research Park, which opened in 1951. Among its early tenants was<br />Hewlett-Packard.<br /><br />For years, most researchers in the life sciences -- biology, biochemistry<br />and medicine -- had little to do with corporations, said Stanford biochemist<br />and Nobel laureate Paul Berg. That began to change in the 1970s when the<br />venture capital community noticed the advances in molecular biology.<br /><br />Stanford was at the center of those advances. Berg laid the foundation for<br />genetic engineering. And Dr. Stanley Cohen, working with Herbert Boyer at<br />UCSF, invented a relatively simple technique that allowed mass production of<br />human proteins in bacteria and yeast -- a discovery that gave birth to the<br />new biotechnology industry and companies like Genentech and Chiron.<br />Over the objections of Berg and others, Stanford in 1974 filed for patents<br />on the Cohen-Boyer invention that ultimately brought the two schools $255<br />million in fees and royalties. Biological and medical discoveries had become<br />a big-time revenue source, ushering in a new era of financial opportunities<br />for Stanford and its scientists. Berg never patented his discoveries. He<br />did co-found a company, DNAX, but the work therewas totally divorced from
what research was going on in my lab,” he said. Retired now, he worries
about the impact corporate ties can have on university researchers.
Like<br />anything, there's an upside and downside,'' he said.What’s happening is
that the lure of money begins to erode how careful you are guarding against
the downside. . . . I myself just think that things have shifted too far
Stanford medical school has a 10-member conflict of interest committee,
created in 2001 to oversee how substantial conflicts that exceed certain
thresholds are handled. All faculty members are required to disclose their
financial relationships at least once a year. Those reports go to the
school’s conflicts manager, who determines which cases must go to the
The committee does its work in secret. However, Costello, the medical
school’s chief of communications, provided a general description of how the
committee handled the 11 substantial conflicts that involved studies of
patients last year: Four faculty members dropped their research proposals
rather than reduce their financial conflicts.
Three scientists reduced their future outside consulting income or speaking
fees from an individual company to $10,000 or below, the level defined as
significant'' by the federal government. Another agreed to give potential<br />royalties to charity.<br /><br />In two instances, scientists were allowed to go ahead despite conflicts for<br />compelling reasons.” Stanford did not explain the reasoning behind those
decisions. But Costello did say that in both cases, safeguards were put in
place, such as requiring that scientists without conflicts recruit subjects
and disclosing the conflicts to participants. (The final conflict involved
an employee from a software company, who was permitted to participate in a
Critics say such reviews don’t go far enough.
There is a focus on<br />procedural solutions and this magical belief that disclosure is the answer<br />as opposed to dealing with the fact that many of these things should not be<br />allowed,'' said Barbara A. Koenig, a bioethics researcher at the Mayo Clinic<br />and former executive director of Stanford's Center for Biomedical Ethics.<br />Tufts University Professor Sheldon Krimsky, author ofScience in the
Private Interest,” argues that fields such as law have stricter conflict
policies than universities. A judge, for instance, isn’t allowed to have any
financial relationship with a party that might benefit from a ruling.
Even some publications and medical societies have tougher standards than
medical schools. The New England Journal of Medicine asks scientists seeking
to publish studies to reveal conflicts going back two years, while the
Journal of the American Medical Association goes back a full five.
Stanford’s med school asks researchers to disclose financial ties to
companies over the previous 12 months.
But is disclosure enough? Being on a corporate board of directors, for
example, carries a legal responsibility that can clash with the interests of
students and patients, said Dr. Roy Poses, who runs the non-profit
Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine.
I am quite<br />surprised that there seem to be many leaders in academic medicine, who also<br />simultaneously have clear <br />responsibilities to protect the interests of corporations and<br />stockholders,'' he said.<br /><br />Within the university, some share his unease.When very large financial
gains are realized by faculty members who form companies, the entire
character of the issue changes,” wrote former Stanford President Donald
Kennedy in his 1997 book,
Academic Duty.''Something about the outcome
seems wrong to people; much as Americans admire entrepreneurship and
financial success, they react negatively to the professor who secures a
windfall — even if it came through a brilliant discovery that will save
many human lives.”
Dr. Halsted Holman is an emeritus professor now, but is still researching
less costly ways to care for those suffering from chronic illness. His views
are decidedly old school.
I feel like an ostrich,'' he joked.Most of
my colleagues have consulting or equity interest. It’s widespread.”
Discoveries in his field, rheumatology and immunology, have resulted in
profitable treatments that have
whetted the appetites'' of the investment<br />community as well as faculty members, he said. He believes his colleagues to<br />be honorable. But he also believes that conflict of interestis a
significant issue that we should be concerned about and that should be
discussed in the faculty, and it isn’t.” But there are faculty members who
weigh the rewards and give up financial ties to keep their research pure.
Dr. Robert Fisher is conducting clinical trials of an electrical device
implanted in the brains of epileptics who do not respond to standard
treatments. The study is sponsored by Medtronic, which makes the device.
Fisher says he was a paid consultant for Medtronic but gave that up in 1999
to avoid a conflict of interest:
When I discuss this with students,'' he<br />said,I tell them,
You've got to choose between cash and the glory.' ''<br /><br />Dean Pizzo acknowledges that even the appearance of a conflict can be a<br />problem, particularly for researchers with leadership responsibility. Early<br />in his career, he did some outside consulting for companies, he said. He<br />stopped long ago. His position is in sharp contrast to the previous med<br />school dean, Dr. Eugene Bauer, who as head of dermatology co-founded the<br />dermatology product company Connetics, originally based on technology<br />developed in a collaboration between his lab and Genentech. For most of his<br />five years as dean, from 1995-2000, Bauer served on Connetics' board of<br />directors. In 2000, while still dean, he earned about $20,000 in company<br />stock and cash. He also served on the boards of two other companies. Since<br />1999, he has sold off 155,000 shares of Connetics stock for $2.3 million,<br />according to Thomson Financial. None of the company's clinical research was<br />conducted at Stanford, Bauer said.<br /><br />Stem-cell leader<br />Built into the way Stanford med deals with faculty conflicts is the idea<br />that disclosure can protect patients and keep the science honest.<br />And no one is more up-front about his financial conflicts than Dr. Irving L.<br />Weissman, one of the founding fathers of stem-cell biology. His lab at<br />Stanford was the first to isolate blood-forming stem cells from animal bone<br />marrow. Today, in addition to his own lab, he directs Stanford's Institute<br />for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine.<br /><br />Weissman's research has made him a multimillionaire entrepreneur. When he<br />gives speeches, when he publishes papers, when he testifies before Congress,<br />he lets everybody know what his outside financial interests are. After<br />serving on the scientific advisory boards of Amgen and DNAX, he helped<br />launch three companies, all based on his stem-cell expertise and, in varying<br />degrees, on the research done in his medical school laboratory.<br /><br />Weissman recently recalled what led him to form the first of his companies,<br />SyStemix. He describes a frustrating year trying to get the facilities he<br />would need on campus to advance his work. He finally concluded in late 1988<br />that he would have to start a company. He went to Kennedy, Stanford's<br />president at the time.<br />A biologist who is now editor in chief of Science magazine, Kennedy had<br />reservations. ``I didn't want faculty wandering from their homes on campus<br />into labs thinking about money in their next offshore venture,'' he<br />recalled.<br /><br />But Weissman convinced him that he could separate his work at the company<br />from his work in the lab. A faculty committee would look at his NIH grants<br />every year to see, Weissman said, ``if I was starting to slant my grants in<br />favor of topics relevant to the company.'' He and Kennedy agreed Stanford<br />would not take shares in the company, avoiding a financial conflict for the<br />university -- a policy later abandoned.<br /><br />Today, Weissman sits on the boards of directors and scientific advisory<br />boards of two other companies he co-founded -- StemCells Inc. and Cellerant<br />Therapeutics. His method of handling his conflicts, primarily through<br />disclosure, has become the standard at Stanford and other medical schools.<br />``The way I usually do it is, I say,I have stock and I’m a director of
this or that, so you might think I’m biased. I don’t think I’m biased, but
there could be unconscious bias, so you judge,’ ” he said.
You ought to<br />be able to do whatever experiment along this line with transparency so<br />everybody knows at every step of the way what your involvements are, what<br />your bias might be, so you can move it forward,'' he said, referring to<br />scientific progress.But I think it’s morally reprehensible not to move it
Since 1995, federal rules have required that the medical school promptly
notify NIH of significant conflicts. Between 2002 and February 2006, the
medical school reported 14 separate grants in which researchers or staff
members had interests of more than $10,000 or 5 percent in a company. Three
of Weissman’s grants were among them.
Costello noted that that is roughly 2 percent of the grants considered for
funding or renewal during the same period. The 14 letters and a few
accompanying documents provide virtually no detail about the size or nature
of the conflicts or how they were handled. They name the principal
investigator and the title of the grant.
However, one of those cases shows how difficult it can be to resolve
conflicts. Dale M. Edgar, an associate professor of psychiatry, walked away
from his position at Stanford to join a company. Edgar took a leave of
absence in 2000 to join Hypnion, a sleep medication company he co-founded in
Massachusetts that was using technology he developed at Stanford. Edgar
would become the new company’s chief science and technology officer.
In a letter to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which was funding
Edgar’s grant at Stanford, he explained that working with the new company
would benefit the work in his laboratory, as well as
afford me and my<br />family a level of financial security that will stabilize my career research<br />objectives at Stanford University.''<br /><br />As a professor at Stanford there was a wall I couldn’t get past to create
real viable treatments for people,” said Edgar recently.
I didn't want to<br />be perceived as having conflicts.'' But while Edgar's decision eliminated<br />his conflict, it did not resolve what would happen to a related federal<br />grant he was leaving behind at Stanford. Edgar asked to have the job of<br />principal investigator transferred to <br />Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, a co-investigator on the grant and an expert in sleep<br />disorders. Mignot is also a co-founder of Hypnion and a member of its<br />advisory board. As required, Stanford reported Mignot's conflict to NIH.<br /><br />However, despite rules requiring prompt reporting of substantial conflicts,<br />Stanford failed to report six grants to NIH until after the Mercury News<br />asked NIH and Stanford earlier this year for documentation of conflicts. Med<br />school spokesman Costello said the failure was an administrative error and<br />that all the scientists followed Stanford's disclosure rules.<br />One of those six grants involves Greenberg, a senior associate dean for<br />research and chairman of the school's conflict of interest committee.<br />Greenberg is an expert on vaccines. In late 2000, he took a two-year leave<br />from Stanford to become vice president of research at Aviron, now MedImmune<br />Vaccines, where he helped develop the Mountain View company's nasal flu<br />vaccine, FluMist. While there, he made the case for FDA approval of FluMist<br />to the agency's vaccine advisory committee, which he had chaired just nine<br />months before.<br /><br />Today, Greenberg remains a paid member of MedImmune's scientific advisory<br />board and holds stock options issued while he was employed by Aviron. He<br />said the options arestill underwater,” meaning that exercising them
would cost him more than the stock is currently worth.
I had a great time<br />at Aviron, but becoming filthy rich was not part of it, unfortunately,'' he<br />said.<br /><br />Flu vaccine<br />He is also one of three Stanford scientists now working on a federal grant<br />to compare MedImmune's FluMist vaccine and Fluzone, a more traditional,<br />injectable vaccine from Aventis Pasteur. Both vaccines have been approved by<br />the FDA and are commercially available.<br />The principal investigator on the NIH-funded grant, which was worth $3.1<br />million last year, is Dr. Ann Arvin, the Stanford-wide associate dean for<br />research -- a position with responsibility for faculty conflict of interest<br />issues across the university. For the past several years, she, like<br />Greenberg, has been a paid member of MedImmune's scientific advisory board<br />and holds stock options in the company.<br />The husband of a third researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Mellins, was vice president<br />for clinical research at MedImmune Vaccines and helped bring FluMist to<br />market. Mellins says she has no direct involvement in the clinical trial.<br /><br />To deal with these conflicts, all work with volunteers, including selecting<br />patients, administering vaccines and drawing blood samples, has been turned<br />over to Dr. Cornelia Dekker, medical director for the vaccine program at<br />Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. The conflicted<br />scientists will analyze anonymous blood samples, but without knowing which<br />vaccine was given.<br />As in all clinical trials, each volunteer had to sign a consent form<br />outlining risks, which in this case involves little more than receiving an<br />approved vaccine. On Page 8 of the 10-page form, participants are<br />specifically told that Greenberg, Arvin and Mellins have financial ties to<br />MedImmune. But there is no explanation of why this could be a concern or<br />what steps were taken to ensure the study is not biased.<br /><br />Arvin, who specializes in pediatric diseases, said she did not consider<br />giving up a position on MedImmune's scientific advisory board, which would<br />have ended her conflict. Responding to questions by e-mail, she wrote,I
consult for MedImmune and other companies because I am interested in
contributing to the development and improvement of vaccines and anti-viral
drugs for children.”
Contact Paul Jacobs at email@example.com or (530) 756-0236.
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