Hopkins steps back from cosmetics deal

April 11, 2006|By JULIE BELL | JULIE BELL,SUN REPORTER

The president of the Johns Hopkins University was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City last week when a sign in a store window surprised him: The poster for a new line of expensive cosmetics trumpeted "Johns Hopkins Medicine" in big letters.

"Gee, I didn't think that's where we were going to go with this," Dr. William R. Brody recalled - seeing what looked like a Hopkins endorsement of the new Cosmedicine line that includes a $48 bottle of skin moisturizer and a $45 cream for puffy eyes.

By yesterday morning, so many had questioned Hopkins' financial relationship with Klinger Advanced Aesthetics that the school announced it had revised its deal with the cosmetics developer.

Brody and Dr. Edward D. Miller, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, issued a statement insisting that the school's involvement - as a consultant on testing procedures - is "absolutely not" an endorsement of Klinger's products.

But they said the public perception - just the opposite - convinced Hopkins to reject stock in the company and a seat on its board of directors, both parts of the original arrangement.

The institution also said it had hired Stephen D. Potts, chairman of the Ethics Resource Center, a Washington-based nonprofit, to help develop clear, consistent criteria for reviewing similar institutional deals in the future.

"At Hopkins, truth, independence and integrity are fundamental to our culture and our academic mission," the statement said. "There is nothing more valuable to Hopkins than the trust we have earned from the public based on careful adherence to those values."

Hopkins said it has asked Klinger and the stores that sell the Cosmedicine products to "withdraw all references to JHM [Johns Hopkins Medicine] except for certain limited information - on product packages and in previously printed promotional material - that disclose JHM's consulting role."

The companies have agreed to do so, Hopkins said.

However, as of yesterday afternoon, Sephora's Web site continued to tell consumers, in words that flashed on the screen and then disappeared, that Cosmedicine "will help you achieve your healthiest skin possible. ... Truth is, its performance is confirmed by Johns Hopkins Medicine."

Klinger Chairman Richard Rakowski couldn't be reached yesterday for comment.

Cosmedicine's skin collection includes a $35 foaming cleanser and toner, an $80 skin-fortifying serum that contains vitamins, a $48 moisturizer and a $45 eye cream to reduce puffiness and soften lines.

Hopkins initially agreed to the consulting fees, company stock and a seat on Klinger's board after about 10 faculty members helped design and review research on the products, which were launched in late February.

The research - conducted by an outside firm, not Hopkins - included testing on humans to answer such questions as whether a sunscreen product would run into consumers' eyes.

The Cosmedicine arrangement is part of a broader agreement between Hopkins and Klinger, which also has at least 11 centers that provide both cosmetic products and medical procedures, such as Botox injections. Hopkins previously advised the company on how to safely perform those procedures.

The Cosmedicine deal, first reported in last Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, drew harsh criticism from ethicists, consumer advocates and others who said it crossed ethical lines and diverted researchers' time from more serious health problems.

Arnold Relman and Marcia Angell, both physicians and former New England Journal of Medicine editors who share a home in Cambridge, were among those critics. They had just drafted an opinion piece critical of the deal yesterday when a Sun reporter told them it had been revised.

"We're glad they saw the light and changed the arrangement," Relman said. "This should be a lesson for many other academic centers that are being tempted by industry to trade their reputation and their professional independence for financial gain."

Relman said he wished Hopkins had ended the relationship completely, "but perhaps they couldn't."

Brody said yesterday that Hopkins has a contractual obligation to continue its association with Klinger.

Hopkins and other institutions are increasingly looking to private industry to help finance their medical, research and teaching missions. In part, this is a reaction to pressure on Medicare and Medicaid, tightening payments from insurance companies, and tightened research funds from the National Institutes of Health.

Generally, academic medical institutions make money when they license scientific discoveries to industry, which then tries to market the ideas in the form of new drugs or medical devices. In exchange, the corporations often give the institutions stock, as well as consulting fees and payments at "milestones" in a product's development, such as a completed clinical trial.

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