STAT: Memorial Sloan Kettering's hospital, data partnerships create 'web of conflicts'

Some experts contend New York City-based Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center's affiliations with various health tech startups and other hospitals raise issues about the hospital's commitment to patients, STAT reports.

In 2016, MSKCC signed a partnership agreement with Edison, N.J.-based Hackensack Meridian Health and within a year, signed a second agreement with data analytics startup Cota, which was founded by a Hackensack executive.

However, MSKCC's stake in Cota, which claims its software can ingest patient data from patients' medical records and provide medical insight, raises questions about whether the hospital's leadership can be objective in the software's supposed benefit to patients.

"It sets up the potential for bias," Robert Cook-Deegan, MD, a bioethics expert and professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, told STAT. "It's all perceived to be part of their business interests. You can't play that game and at the same time retain the perception as being a white hat to the patient."

An MSKCC spokesperson said in a statement to STAT that "there is zero connection" between the hospital's partnerships with Hackensack Meridian and Cota, claiming the two deals are viewed as "two separate transactions driven by entirely different goals that occurred nearly one year apart from one another."

The spokesperson added that the hospital "always has and always will evaluate the value of any relationship objectively and based on our perspective as to whether the partnership advances our mission of preventing, treating and curing cancer," and that "none of the parties involved in the chief negotiations of the clinical partnership had a role in negotiating the terms of an agreement with a data partner."

The scrutiny over the cancer center's partnerships comes after at least one of its top executives failed to disclose millions of dollars in payments from drug and healthcare companies connected to his research and resigned earlier this year. The individual involved in the scandal, Jose Baselga, MD, the former CMO of the hospital, was instrumental in negotiating MSKCC's partnership with Hackensack Meridian in 2016, according to the report.

Dr. Cook-Deegan told STAT MSKCC's decision to invest in Cota creates transparency issues for the hospital, as information about the deal or any developments is limited. Such investments, Dr. Cook-Deegan said, create tension between the hospital's mission to provide the best cancer care to patients and its financial interest in increasing Cota's valuation in anticipation of a potential sale or initial public offering for the company, according to the report.

To access the full report, click here.

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