Viewpoint: Hospitals must tighten rules for execs on biotech, corporate boards

An editorial in the Boston Globe argues that there is need for more robust oversight of hospital executives' involvement with corporate or biotech boards, as evidenced by the fact that Elizabeth Nabel, MD, president of Brigham and Women's Hospital, did not violate any hospital rules when she served on the board for biotech firm Moderna. 

Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna is investigating a COVID-19 vaccine, for which Boston-based Brigham and Women's is a trial site.

Dr. Nabel resigned from Modern's board in late July. She joined the board in 2015 and was paid for her service. The biotech firm said she stepped down "to avoid any potential of even apparent conflict of interest on her part or Moderna's part."  

Dr. Nabel noted that despite the conflict of interest policies in place to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine study is not compromised due to her connection with Moderna, "I have come to realize that those who do not know me, or how such trials are conducted, may perceive a conflict of interest." 

Now the editorial board for the Boston Globe argues that hospitals like Brigham and Women's need to tighten their rules and policies around executives' involvement with biotech and corporate boards, especially when the hospitals they lead are researching the company's products.

"For example, for those working on a clinical study at a hospital, people can raise the question: how much does knowing of their boss's financial stake in an outcome influence their thinking?" the Globe asks.

Hospital executives' involvement with boards may pass internal conflict-of-interest rules, but the public perception of a possible conflict of interest is powerful, the editorial argues. 

"After the Globe asked hospital officials whether Nabel's position at the biotech firm conflicted with her hospital's work in the clinical trial, she resigned from the Moderna board," according to the editorial. "It's worth noting that the fact that [Dr. Nabel] was on the Moderna board doesn't mean she did anything unethical regarding the vaccine trial, but her resignation signals that the appearance posed enough of a problem in the court of public opinion." 

Read the full editorial here

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