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Conflicts of Interest - Case G2

Dr. Simon Goldberg is a dermatologist and a tenured faculty member at a research-intensive medical school. When not attending to his clinical and educational responsibilities, he conducts research into the mechanisms by which skin tissue heals and repairs itself. Recently, Dr. Goldberg received a contract from Vanite, a large cosmetics company whose products are sold worldwide. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has questioned claims the company makes concerning one of its leading products, Creme de Jouvence, which Vanite asserts can repair damage to the skin caused by aging and exposure to the sun. Vanite stands by this claim, although it is uncertain which of the many ingredients in the product actually produces the rejuvenating effect. Therefore, it would like to hire Dr. Goldberg to investigate this matter. Dr. Goldberg's findings will be used in Vanite's response to the FDA. As it is under some pressure to respond in a timely manner, Vanite would like to have the results of this study as quickly as possible. Whatever Dr. Goldberg finds, he will receive $250,000 to cover the expenses and salary associated with the project. However, if he can identify an ingredient that proves active within nine months, a company representative has assured Dr. Goldberg that Vanite will hire him again to study the safety of a new cosmetic ingredient the firm has developed.

Questions:

  1. What kinds of incentives are created by the promise of future employment?
  2. Assume that in order to make the deadline, Dr. Goldberg enlisted two predoctoral students to assist with the project. To recruit them for this effort, he told the students that they would gain valuable exposure and experience from their participation. What problems might be posed by this situation?
  3. Vanite is clearly under pressure to support its claims and Dr. Goldberg is conscious of Vanite's desire to acquire data to help the company make its case. If you were Dr. Goldberg, what would you do to retain your objectivity in this study?
  4. The FDA will scrutinize Dr. Goldberg's research findings. What impact does this independent review by a government agency have on your concerns about this contract?
  5. Assume that Dr. Goldberg has been offered equity holdings in the company as part of his compensation package. In what ways might that arrangement influence Dr. Goldberg's objectivity? By what mechanisms might his objectivity be preserved in spite of that form of compensation?
  6. Assume that Dr. Goldberg's university has a rule that precludes faculty from accepting an equity interest in a company that supports the faculty member's research. Dr. Goldberg wishes to accept equity as a form of compensation and opposes the university's policy. What do you think about this policy? Support either Dr. Goldberg's position or that of the university.
  7. Society as a whole has many concerns about the relation between scientists in academic research institutions and industry. What are some of the concerns, as you understand them and what principles should be applied to regulate that relationship?
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