By Peggy Andersen
SEATTLE — A panel created by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s board of trustees to study its patient protection and research practices said Friday it found the institution in compliance with state and federal law.
It also found room for improvement.
The review was prompted in part by a series of articles in the Seattle Times in March that alleged that in medical experiments at the center in the mid-1980s, leukemia patients and their families were neither fully informed about risks nor told that some doctors involved had financial interests in the drugs being tested.
At least 20 people died of graft failures, cancer relapses or new cancers linked to the experimental treatments in the 1980s, the newspaper reported.
Hutchinson center officials challenged the newspaper’s findings and harshly criticized the series. The center has the world’s leading bone-marrow transplant program and is the No. 1 recipient of research funds from the National Cancer Institute.
Also prompting the review were recent problems at other cancer centers and "fundamental concern for the safety of patients. That’s what drove this issue," said the Rev. William J. Sullivan. He was asked by trustees to form a panel — he lined up 11 volunteers to serve as the Committee for Patient Protection in Research Trials — and consult with experts on the center’s practices and policies.
The panel’s report stresses that its focus was current practices, not those in effect at the time of the two trials cited by the newspaper. The center is now being sued over those trials, Sullivan noted.
But compliance with the law and conformity with industry standards are not enough, said J. Shan Mullin, chairman of the center’s board of trustees and a member of the citizen panel.
The committee’s primary recommendation is that the center strengthen its conflict-of-interest policy for staff conducting human experiments to prohibit any financial interest in for-profit corporations that may benefit from the results of such trials.
Asked if any major research centers have a total ban on such conflicts — for individuals and the institution, Mullin said: "None that we know of."
He and Sullivan said they did not know how many members of the center staff would be affected by such a ban, or how much money would be involved.
The National Institutes of Health standards allow an exemption of $10,000 or interest of less than 5 percent in a company, Mullin said.
"It’s fair to say this will be the toughest issue they’ll deal with," Sullivan said of follow-up work on the recommendations.
Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.