Robert H. Bruininks: Transparency at the U

  • Updated: August 22, 2009 - 4:30 PM


In an Aug. 16 editorial, the Star Tribune suggested that the University of Minnesota should lead the way nationally in setting standards for the management of conflicts of interest. As the president of the state's only research university, I could not agree more. In fact, more than a year ago, its robust university-wide conflicts review program underwent a rigorous examination. I recognized that relationships between researchers and industry and the scope of potential conflicts have grown in complexity. This reexamination enables it to consider what more it can do to review and manage these relationships and potential conflicts. Our goal is to be known as a national model of transparency and high standards.

The university's existing conflict management program is one of the earliest in higher education and is still considered to be a strong, effective program. At the same time, the comprehensive review of the university's conflict of interest management practices and policies is ongoing. A task force focused on existing policies and how they might be revised and broadened to address the relationships and interactions of Medical School faculty with the device and pharmaceutical industries. Since then this work has been extended to cover the breadth of our academic and research operation. The effort, undertaken by an all-university leadership team, includes review of the prevailing practices at other research institutions, consultation with representatives from industry and advice from national organizations. The result will be well worth the time it takes to do a thorough job.

University research is essential to the economic health and well-being of our state. It creates jobs, leads to stunning discoveries in medicine, the sciences and the arts, and enhances our education mission. The relationship between university researchers and industry helps advance these discoveries and make them more accessible. However, we all recognize that appropriate safeguards are essential to ensure public confidence in the integrity of the life-changing work done by our faculty.

New federal disclosure standards are needed to strengthen efforts like ours. I recently sent a letter of support of Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley's Physician Payments Sunshine Act. Cosponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, the bill provides for important disclosures by drug, device and medical supply manufacturers of payments made to physicians, bringing much needed transparency to these relationships. It will simplify conflict of interest management at major research universities like ours, and will provide for a more comprehensive approach instead of inconsistent reporting systems among the 50 states. We intend our revised program and policies to reflect these proposed legislative changes.

Of course our nation's universities and research institutions, talented research faculty, and industry partners must all do our part well. I can assure you that the University of Minnesota is up to the task.


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