Sloan Kettering Does Not Get the Whole Conflicts Thing

As described here a week ago, one of Sloan Kettering’s cancer researchers, Dr. Jose Balsega, had received compensation from pharmas that was not disclosed either to Sloan Kettering or to the editors of the journals publishing his research on the efficacy of the drugs of those pharmas. Well, Dr. Jose Balsega resigned as a result, but there are new conflicts to explore.

Sloan Kettering staff members, Dr. David Kimstra (chairman of the pathology department) and Dr. Thomas Fuchs, head of the occupational pathology lab, founded Apaige.AI. The start-up has the goal of developing algorithms that can distinguish between cancerous and benign tumors, something that they say would revolutionize cancer treatment.

As part of the arrangement, Paige.AI has been given access to Sloan Kettering’s 25 million patient tissue slides and all of the work done by its pathologists over a 25-year period. To which the pathologists responded, How come those two get to profit from all the work we have done at a nonprofit research center?

The response was that the work was so incredibly important to cancer research and access to such slides so expensive that this arrangement was the one way the AI could be developed.

The problems that emerged? For starters, the privacy of the patients. Patients have their records there for purposes of treatment and have not consented to commercial use. Another problem was the difficulty of obtaining investors. In this highly risky field, Paige.AI could not get the capital it needed. As a result, three Kettering Sloan board members became investors. On deals such as this, nonprofits must show that they did not provide assets to insiders for less than market value. However, no one bothered with an independent evaluation of the transaction, either its value or legality. There was no competitive bidding for the use of the pathology slides and work. The response of the scientists: The AI work would help everyone in cancer research and treatment and Kettering Sloan would be sharing its findings. Still, details for sales, profits, and their distribution remain a mystery. No worries though, Dr. Balsega is on the advisory board of Paige.AI and can handle deftly any conflicts issues that might arise.

As for the pathologists, they say they are not interested in compensation. What they are interested in is input into how, why, and when their work can be transferred and on the interests of patients.

Brilliant scientists still need help with conflicts — Dr. Klimstra’s response was that the only thing he cared about more than his family was running the pathology department. Ergo, in the minds of medical researchers, there is no conflict. Oh, but there is, This deal that needed non-scientific vetting, supervision, disclosure, and some legal advice. Nobody at one of the nation’s finest seemed to be able to spot the issues, conflicts, or the appearance of impropriety.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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