The University of Minnesota’s administration is doing a full court press against the existence of conflicts of interest. Academic Health Center vice president Frank Cerra wrote in a recent e-mail to the AHC that, “I’d like to make a couple of points loud and clear. Yes, the faculty within the Academic Health Center … have relationships with industry. Our new ideas, our discoveries would never go anywhere if there weren’t a company willing to develop or manufacture the results of our work … And, yes, our faculties … are compensated for their time and work.”
The following day, the Minnesota Daily published an AP article that revealed the Department of Psychiatry’s chair S. Charles Schulz inaccurately hyped the antipsychotic drug Seroquel when the company’s own data showed it to be, at best, equivalent to a competitor’s cheaper drug. Schulz was a highly paid consultant for the company.
The article also reported that, “The dean of the medical school, Dr. Deborah Powell, is aware of the controversy and has offered Schulz her full support … ” It is not a shock that Powell, who receives compensation from Pepsi, does not acknowledge that conflict of interest. But she should acknowledge a problem.
Meanwhile, Cerra casts the debate in dichotomous terms. Cerra frequently argues as if the University’s only choice were between accepting lucrative consulting sums from industry or cutting ties with industry altogether.
But the Medical School can have relationships with industry without acting as its spokespeople and without accepting lucrative consulting fees. The public recognizes a problem in medicine. Of 42 comments in a Star Tribune article about Schulz, nearly all express outrage. People are far more suspicious of pharmaceutical representative and physician interactions than are physicians themselves. That makes sense because, in the end, it is the patient who pays the price.
Josh Lackner is a Medical School student. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.