Defending Dean Powell’s ethics recommendations

The recommendations represent the consensus of the Medical School and are stricter than the majority of ethics policies in the United States.

Editor’s Note: Look for a response by the editorial board in next Monday’s issue. I write to express my views about the University of Minnesota Medical SchoolâÄôs dialog and report regarding conflict of interest. The Minnesota DailyâÄôs coverage of this issue last week degenerated to personal attacks on Dean Deborah Powell and has demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of the issue while negating important, deliberative work by many Medical School faculty. Dean Powell initiated a Medical School process last year to review whether existing policies provided adequate transparency and oversight for industry-faculty relationships. Although these questions resonate University-wide, they came up first in the Medical School because it has the largest research portfolio of any school at the University, and, like all medical schools, it has many external relationships needed to meet its research and education mission. The process was designed to assess and make recommendations to raise the bar on existing policy. The question asked: Do University policies appropriately manage those relationships, and if not, what changes should be made? To answer that question, Dean Powell appointed a wide-ranging task force to review policy and make initial recommendations, which is the 13-page draft referred to by The Minnesota Daily. Those initial recommendations were then distributed to Medical School faculty, staff, students and others for further review and comment. Comments were discussed and digested into a revised set of recommendations. As Dean Powell has said, she was seeking to deliver a document representing reasonable consensus. That document is now one of several information sources used in a University-wide policy assessment. The Daily asserts that the initial recommendations were âÄúgroundbreakingâÄù and revised recommendations are âÄútoo soft.âÄù I disagree. The revised recommendations are significantly more stringent than a majority of U.S. medical schools and offer a practical and pragmatic way to manage this complex, evolving issue. Throughout my nearly 40-year career, floors of best practice are set, and over time, societal attitudes change and floors are reset âÄî all within the bounds of existing policy and regulation. We are again in a time of change, and the challenge is to capture our community values in this policy revision. However, I want to state clearly that this University, our Medical School and all health sciences schools must have industry relationships. We do not manufacture drugs or devices. We cannot transfer our discoveries to patients without connecting with those who will meet the demand for access to new treatments and cures. Those relationships with industry bring life-saving measures to market so that we, our parents, children and grandchildren can live better. Our job within University administration is to ensure we have the right policies and processes in place to manage those relationships responsibly. But to suggest we sever all ties with industry is a mistake with enormous consequences for the nationâÄôs health. Finally, I expected more fairness, more facts and less innuendo from the Daily than the coverage during the past several weeks. ItâÄôs 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, and it deserves to be heard, to be represented accurately and to be part of the University process looking at these issues. Frank Cerra is the senior vice president for Health Sciences. Please send comments to [email protected].