Mishandling of med school conflict of interest process


I bit my lip for more than six months, but after about 10 calls from reporters in the past two months, I decided to say everything I had to say in a guest column in the Minnesota Daily , which has taken heat from University of Minnesota medical school administration for its reporting on the school’s conflict of interest recommendations process.

I feel for those young journalists who have been trying to do a good job reporting on this bungled affair, but who have been stonewalled by many medical school faculty. It’s easy to take shots at young journalists; it’s harder to reach out and help them learn and improve. Across the University campus in the past eight years I’ve been appalled by the way student journalists have been treated by faculty, staff and administration.

In this case, I think the med school has an awful lot of introspection to do before it starts pointing fingers.

The University's senior vice president for Health Sciences, Frank Cerra, raised a false dichotomy in his guest column in the Daily this week, writing:

“I want to state clearly that this University, our Medical School and all health sciences schools must have industry relationships. … to suggest we sever all ties with industry is a mistake with enormous consequences for the nation’s health.”

I never heard anyone suggest that all ties with industry be severed.

But the following comments are more troubling.

“Finally, I expected more fairness, more facts and less innuendo from the Daily than the coverage during the past several weeks. It’s unfortunate that this important effort continues to be misrepresented by a few who seem to want to influence the outcome outside of the process. The faculty of the Medical School have brought forth their thinking. This is their voice…”

How does he know the effort was misrepresented? He never attended one of the task force meetings. Whom does he refer to as the “few who seem to want to influence the outcome outside of the process”? That’s a pretty vague broad-brushed attack against anyone who comments.

But his emphasis on the faculty’s thinking and the faculty’s voice is most troubling of all.

That shows the lack of a grasp for the importance of public input on the school’s conflict of interest policy – the very point of my guest column.

I hope something good comes from all of this discussion.


This whole situation is a disappointment to many of us at the University, both within and outside of the Medical School.

Sincere thanks to Professor Schwitzer for speaking up. I know that this was not easy.

Bill Gleason

Frank Cerra says that "to sever all ties with industry is a mistake with enormous consequence for the nation's health." I find that a most strange comment when you consider how much money several doctors at the U of MN (mainly in Psychiatry) get from pharmaceutical companies. IF these drugs had any merit beyond mainly being a chemical lobotomy, as they were touted when they came on the market, they would sell themselves!

My son, Dan Markingson, died in a clinical study at the U of MN, a study I tried for five months to get him out of. However, after Dan's death I found that Quintiles, the CRO, gave the University over $1400 for every CAFE Study visit Dan (and all other enrollees) attended. The P.I. of the study, Dr. Stephen C. Olson, originally told Dan that after Dan's 6-month civil commitment was ended, and Dan returned to Los Angeles, that he could finish the study in California. (It was a 12-month study.) It was not done at a site near Los Angeles.

Also, another important point to think about: Why on earth are they still doing clinical studies on drugs that were approved over a dozen years ago (Phase IV studies are after-approval studies)if not simply for marketing?

Money, unfortunately, drives many doctors. That is a given. Look at Dr. Joseph Beiderman of Harvard. I could name doctors at the U of MN, but you can get this information for yourself through the Dept. of Pharmacy. They have available the amount every pharmaceutical company gave to each doctor throughout Minnesota. Minnesota and Vermont are the only two states which require drug companies to supply this information.

As to Dr. Deborah Powell, you can simply google her to find out how much she was paid by Pepsico. That information is freely available. She may be an absolutely wonderful doctor, but I personally question her ethics.

If anyone is interested in learning the truth about drug companies, many books are available. I would recommend a start with Bob Whitaker's "Mad in America". He talks about the overwhelming conflict of interest in how drug companies reward doctors who push their drugs.

I could go on, but if this is a subject that interests you, you will do your own research.

Mary Weiss

Why has it taken a series of articles from local to national newspapers to awaken Minnesotans to the fact that our health care has been compromised by pharmaceutical companies buying their way into the University of Minnesota. We have all been duped and have been living under a false sense of security that certain departments and researchers at the university have their patients/clients best interest at heart. The hundreds of thousands of dollars they have been receiving individually for speakers fees, honoraria, advisory boards, and especially CME's boarders on criminal.When an investigator has a vested interest in the outcome of HIS research study, even if it's just perceived that way, the general public and especially the study enrollees have a right to know.

As an example at the University of Minnesota, if your academic career has been built and funded by studying antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenia or Psychosis in Adolesents and you write or worse yet just sign articles stating you should primarily only use the drug in your study-isn't that a conflict of interest? I certainly think touting your own studies are a form of bias.

It's actually pretty simple, some of the research professors are not really answering some research question and impartially looking for the truth; they are just trying to be the first in line at the bank.

Sadly, it certainly appears that truth is for hire from some professors at the University. And as we all know, pharma money buys truth.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Gary Schwitzer published on February 18, 2009 7:24 AM.

Disease-mongering by the Washington Post: here we go again was the previous entry in this blog.

Caveat emptor on calcium scores is the next entry in this blog.

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