Response to Cerra column

The editorial board stands by its call for Dean Powell to recuse herself from COI committee.

Justin Horwath

Frank Cerra, the Academic Health CenterâÄôs senior vice president, wrote a guest column in MondayâÄôs Minnesota Daily alleging this paperâÄôs coverage of the Medical SchoolâÄôs conflicts of interest policy-changing process degenerated into personal attacks on Medical School Dean Deborah Powell and suggested the coverage wasnâÄôt accurate. Cerra also defended Dean PowellâÄôs draft report recommending how the Medical School manages medical-industry relationships. Defending The Minnesota DailyâÄôs coverage of Medical School COI reform requires one point: neither Medical School nor Academic Health Center officials have been able to point out one inaccuracy. Indeed, Molly Portz, the Academic Health CenterâÄôs media relations director, submitted a reply to a Minnesota Daily editorial criticizing a second draft report on the Medical SchoolâÄôs COI policy from Cerra two weeks ago. The reply stated: âÄúI expect more fairness and accuracy from the Daily and its reporters than I am currently reading on this subject.âÄù The Daily informed Portz that it takes allegations of inaccuracy seriously and a response to CerraâÄôs column would be forthcoming. Portz then submitted a revised column from Cerra that read: âÄúI expected more fairness, more facts and less innuendo from the Daily than the coverage during the past several weeks.âÄù The decision to print CerraâÄôs innuendo to inaccuracy was supported by the fact that it would publicly highlight the discrepancy between how the Medical School views COI reform and how the media views it. Recent dialogue suggests that discrepancy is vast. What tainted the Medical SchoolâÄôs prescient and admirable effort to revamp its COI policy is that officials in charge of that process didnâÄôt accept the very premise of it: conflicts of interest are damaging. The Star TribuneâÄôs December revelation that Dean Powell had appointed Leo Furcht as co-chair of the COI task force, a man whom Powell had reprimanded for steering half a million dollars of research money to a company which he owned, illustrated that fact. And Powell is no stranger to conflicts of interest: according to Integrity in Science and a proxy statement, she currently receives more than $30,000 in annual retainer and $60,000 in stock options for her membership of PepsiAmericaâÄôs corporate board, which she joined in 2006. In September 2007 Powell appointed a task force of Medical School faculty, students and a health journalism professor to make recommendations to change the Medical SchoolâÄôs COI policy. Those recommendations were finalized in August of 2008, and they included substantial changes in COI policy that could have made Medical School a leader in that regard. Policy changes included cutting medical-industry funding from the UniversityâÄôs College of Continuing Medical Education and would have required that all financial ties between industry and faculty be disclosed. Powell distributed a copy of those recommendations to the Medical School for comment. After considering that feedback, Powell drafted what organizations like the American Medical Student Association considered much weaker COI policy recommendations. After a second committee comprised of senior administrators, including Powell and Cerra, reviews those recommendations, policy changes will be submitted before the Board of Regents in May for approval. The editorial board wrote that Powell âÄî who will step down as Dean in July âÄî should recuse herself from the second COI committee. She wrongly hired Furcht to the first COI committee without informing its members and as a member of PepsiAmericaâÄôs board, Powell has a bias, if not interest, in the COI policy changes. With respect to Dean Powell and Cerra, we stand by our editorial. Please send comments to [email protected]