MD Anderson: SOLD!

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Another day and another deal in which MD Anderson is a
principal.

Cayman
Chemical and Fannin Innovation Studio, sounding like an off-shore money-laundering
front from a James Bond movie, and a studio making TV medical dramas, have
formed a new company with MD Anderson.

         It is no longer a question that MD Anderson has become a
clearinghouse for drug companies wishing access to faculty, laboratories and
inevitably patients. Mazel Tov, y’all!

         The great Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh counsels
that when a Buddha is placed atop a television, “these two things don’t go
together.” Alas, the same is true with the academic and corporate cultures. No
amount of money is worth undermining the reputation of a leading source of
truth like MD Anderson by having it climb into bed with those whose first
loyalty is to shareholders and markets, not patients and faculty. I have heard
all I can stand about managing conflicts of interest and firewalls not to be
breached, but we all know better. If the financial interests of Anderson’s
portfolio clash with the interests of its patients (one of the drugs in the
portfolio that is being studied at Anderson turns out to be a loser), we know
what will happen. Heck, we saw it with Aveo, not to mention ImClone. How many
more times are we going to run this reel?

         Dr. Prat claims that “we have been very successful at
establishing alliance with large pharmaceutical companies,” but those were not
partnerships. They were contracts. The company supplied the drug and the
support to do the trial or other research and the independence of MD Anderson’s
faculty to publish the results of the research, basic or clinical, was
preserved. I should know. I was signing these contracts for many years and none
I ever signed would allow final say on a research result’s publication to rest
in the hands of the pharmaceutical sponsor. No conflict in such an arrangement.
The same is not true here.

When
the doer of the research is the holder of the company, things change. It says
right in the announcement that the company will be “full partners with a
talented team of MD Anderson biologists and physicians to apply our deep
understanding of the COX enzymes to the treatment and prevention of cancer.”
This is a quote from Kirk Maxley, president and CEO of Cayman Chemical who also
happens to have the distinction of being a major sperm donor. He may not only
spawn companies, but hundreds of children most of whom he knows nothing of.

(http://www.newsweek.com/genetic-lessons-prolific-sperm-donor-75467)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/23/kirk-maxey-father-of-400_n_401715.html

http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/Health/story?id=1982328&page=1

         He was also the proud recipient of an FDA Warning Letter
regarding his work in 2010.

http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm199802.htm

Does
MD Anderson ever do background checks on who it hires and who it does business
with? Hmmm…..remember the donor whose name had to be removed from the South
Campus building when the lettering on the building’s side predated the check clearing?

         The final quote in the press release is opaque in the
extreme. “This partnership reflects both increasing recognition of both the
commercial value of innovation being created in Houston and the need for
creative ways to advance early stage innovation.” Huh? What does that even mean
beyond the infatuation of Dr. Varadhachary with the words “both” and “create.”

         It doesn’t really matter. This, as with most things
surrounding MD Anderson for the past 15 years, is all about money. Like health
care itself, a profession that used to center around the patient, Anderson has
become an industry revolving around new means of boosting cash flow.

         Believe me, I understand no money, no mission, but the
mission of MD Anderson cannot be so compromised by the money that it gets lost
in the corporate entanglements of Enron, ImClone, Aveo and now Cayman. The
faculty did not come to Anderson to work in corporate America. If that is the
wave of the future, and it appears to be, then let’s give the faculty the
option of staying or going on honest terms.

         All of you who thought you were in academic medicine,
reconsider. Those of you wishing to stay with big pharma, stay at your desks.

         Who knew that shared governance meant shared “corporate”
governance? And what fool believes that?

Leonard Zwelling