Cancer, People, Policy, Research Institutes

Outside review confirms top Memorial Sloan Kettering executives flouted conflicts-of-interest policies — report

The upper echelons of the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center have been charged with cultivating a culture of putting profits before research and patients by persistently breaching conflict-of-interest policies in a review conducted by an independent body.

The results of the review — reported by the New York Times and ProPublica — solidifies a sweeping investigation by the two media organizations last year that found various top executives and board members from the leading New York-based cancer research and treatment center had profited from relationships with drugmakers, other research outfits and corporate board memberships.

In response to the independent review, MSK on Thursday also broadened its conflicts-of-interest policy overhaul, including public disclosure of physician ties to corporations and limits on work outside of MSK.

The controversial revelations coming out of Memorial Sloan Kettering have also had an impact on other high profile cancer institutions, including the Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — both of whose executives sit on corporate boards — and are reassessing their norms related to financial ties, according to NYT/ProPublica.

José Baselga

The NYT/ProPublica reports triggered the September exit of MSK chief medical officer, José Baselga, who failed to disclose the remunerations he received from a spate of biopharma firms he assisted — in terms of articles in medical journals as well as organizations like ASCO, where he headlined major presentations. Baselga also stepped down from the boards of Bristol-Myers Squibb and Varian Medical Systems, only to be hired by AstraZeneca to run the British drugmaker’s oncology division this January.

Craig Thompson

The reportage also sparked the disentanglement of other MSK relationships. MSK CEO Craig Thompson in October resigned from the boards of Charles River Laboratories and Merck. In January, the nonprofit research institute reformed its conflicts-of-interest policy, by banning its top executives from serving on corporate boards of biopharma companies.

The outside investigation — conducted by the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton — found that MSK officials  “frequently violated or skirted their own policies; that hospital leaders’ ties to companies were likely considered on an ad hoc basis rather than through rigorous vetting; and that researchers were often unaware that some senior executives had financial stakes in the outcomes of their studies,” the NYT/ProPublica report published on Thursday said.

Nevertheless, the violations were not the result of “intentional misconduct” but due to “inadequate oversight and a lack of established protocols for examining whether employees’ and executives’ affiliations with corporations could result in biased results that favored a company’s products,” the article highlighted, citing an MSK staff meeting held on Thursday.

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