- Memorial Sloan Kettering will no longer allow its top executives to simultaneously sit on corporate boards of for-profit, health-related companies, including drugmakers.
- The decision comes as the New York-based cancer center has found itself the center of public scrutiny following a series of investigative reports published by The New York Times and ProPublica that raised ethical questions on the nonprofit's relationships with industry. The organization's chief executive, Craig Thompson, resigned in October from his seat on the board of Merck & Co.
- This decision was outlined in a memo sent Friday to MSK employees that also described several other changes to how MSK will interact with industry in the future. Additional new policies will limit investment and board service for other MSK employees with spin-off ventures. The document was first reported by The New York Times and ProPublica.
While MSK's situation has drawn the most attention for its ties to industry, leaders of nonprofit health systems commonly lead pharmaceutical companies at the same time, a BioPharma Dive review from November found.
From that analysis, about two-thirds of the industry's largest drugmakers had at least one board member who was also leading a nonprofit, creating a potential financial conflict of interest between the two roles.
The typical compensation package from the pharma companies to these directors was worth more than $475,000, while the average director also held roughly $1.7 million in stock of the particular drugmaker they helped to lead.
This MSK memo from Debra Berns, the cancer center's senior vice president and chief risk officer, establishes some new limits the organization will put in place on its leaders.
The five highest-ranking roles will not be permitted to serve on boards of external, for-profit health- or science-related companies, the memo stated. These roles are the chief executive, chief operating officer, chief financial officer, physician-in-chief and director of MSK.
However, these five leaders can be exempt from the ban if they provide a compelling institutional reason for board service and obtain approval from the executive committee of MSK's board of managers, according to the document.
Another new policy will limit the relationship with for-profit spin-off companies that MSK officers can have. MSK officers cannot serve on boards of spin-off companies, and the Board of Overseers and Managers cannot invest in or serve on these boards.
Finally, MSK will co-host a symposium in February to start crafting a framework on financial disclosures in research publications.
The changes are limited in scope, and policies can always be modified in the future when public scrutiny fades.
For instance, Partners HealthCare, which runs Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital, also received front-page coverage from The New York Times when it capped outside directorship payments to $5,000 per day in 2010. A few years later, its board of directors quietly voted to scrap the limit, BioPharma Dive previously reported.
The internal review at MSK is still ongoing, and Berns wrote these actions are "only a start." Some other institutions are also rethinking their approaches to industry relationships, according to The New York Times and ProPublica, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.