Deals: Are They Really Good for Academia?

Deals: Are They Really
Good for Academia?

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Once again, a deal has been announced between MD Anderson
and a commercial entity.  This one is with
Immatics.

http://www.fiercebiotech.com/story/immatics-md-anderson-partner-60m-immuno-oncology-t-cell-spinout/2015-08-25?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

         If I understand it correctly, the deal sounds great. There
appears to be almost $60M coming to Anderson in private cash and grants to do
novel immunologic research. This has got to be a good thing, right?

         As my accounting instructor used to say, “that depends.”

         If this is a straight contract for work deal and a truly
meritorious grant, then this is a good deal.

But
if there is any stock involved, or promises made with regard to publication
rights (can everything DISCOVERED doing the research be published or must it be
patented first?), or does anyone at MD Anderson benefit in any financial way
from one set of results vs. another, especially with regard to clinical
research? If any of these are so, this is a bad deal, because those are all
prime examples of conflict of interest, which, unfortunately, is no longer
unusual at Anderson given Aveo, IACS and Ziopharm. I am not even sure who is
working for whom sometimes as the CEO of Ziopharm was very recently an MD
Anderson faculty member whose presence on campus has been noted as recently as
last week. Is he gone or isn’t he? Is he running the research sponsored by his
own company while it is being done in state facilities? Does he retain an MD
Anderson faculty appointment while bringing down a CEO’s salary? How much stock
does he have? I don’t know, but someone ought to find out and let the shared
governance leadership team in on the findings.

         The latest announcements suggest that MD Anderson IS a
shareholder in Immatics. This is a real risk to the INTEGRITY of Anderson’s
reputation as an independent arbiter of the truth, which an academic center is
supposed to be. MD Anderson is clearly for sale for a sufficient stock position
with any new pharma company with funds, a product and an idea. And no one seems
to CARE.

http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/blog/2015/08/m-d-anderson-helps-form-new-houstoncancer.html

         I am still with Marcia Angell on this. In the May 18, 2000
issue of the NEJM, she warned about
the intrusion of corporate values into academia (”Is Academic Medicine for
Sale?”) and the fact that it may well be that the cultures of corporate and
academic America are incompatible. Corporations strive to maximize shareholder
value. The mission of academia is the truth no matter where it takes us.
Results unfavorable to shareholders may, nonetheless, be true. There ought to
be no impositions to the publication of these results regardless of the effects
of such truths on stock price. This becomes sticky when the entity doing the
research owns some of the stock as is the case with MD Anderson and Ziopharm
and apparently Immatics.

I
have urged the powers at MD Anderson to follow their own conflict of interest
rules, but given Dr. DePinho’s predilections to push his own company on
national television while appearing as an MD Anderson spokesman, I seriously
doubt that my sensibilities align with those of the leaders of Anderson even as
they do with the core values (see words in caps above).

Thus,
it will be for the faculty members of the Executive Committee under the new
shared governance structure to prevent MD Anderson from dipping its big toe
into shark-infested corporate waters. I don’t know if this is the case with the
latest deal, but it has certainly been the case with others and given what I
have read to date the new deal should set off alarms among those wishing to
maintain that number 1 ranking among cancer providers. A lot of that depends on
reputation and breaking your own rules is a bad way to maintain one’s
reputation. Just ask Jeff Skilling or Andy Fastow.

And
it has to stop before something (like the center’s reputation) or someone (like
a patient) is unnecessarily harmed for another 20 cent increment in share price.

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