The Hutch selects review panel
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center yesterday named the people who will review the center's clinical-research practices, including how human experiments are regulated, what patients are told before enrolling, and how financial conflicts of doctors are policed.
The committee will meet in private and is expected to issue recommendations by late summer, said Hutch spokeswoman Susan Edmonds.
The group, calling itself the Committee on Patient Protection in Research Trials, is composed largely of Hutch supporters, including two present board members, a judge who credits the center with saving her life, and the widow of the late Seattle Schools Superintendent John Stanford. Stanford was treated there.
The Rev. William Sullivan, former president of Seattle University and a Hutch board member, organized the group over the past month, following publication of articles in The Seattle Times entitled, "Uninformed Consent: What patients at `The Hutch' weren't told about the experiments in which they died."
The articles reported that at least 24 cancer patients died prematurely in two clinical trials at the center between 1983 and 1998, experiments in which The Hutch and its doctors had financial interests.
The experiments appeared to violate federal laws on protection of human-research subjects, informed consent and drug monitoring. Last month, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of 82 families in one of the experiments, and federal authorities are considering opening an investigation.
Families and former internal-review board members told The Times they weren't told of known risks in the experiments nor of the potential financial conflicts. The newspaper documented their claims with research findings, hospital records and corporate-financing documents.
But the new committee is not expected to look back at the experiments in question. Rather, it will focus on current practices, and make recommendations to the Hutchinson Center Board of Trustees.
Committee members are Boh Dickey, retired president and chief operating officer of Safeco; James Dwyer, president, Sound Floor Coverings; Anne Farrell, president and chief executive officer of The Seattle Foundation; Jon Fine, president and chief executive officer of United Way of King County; Richard Guy, former chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court; Linda Mattox, community volunteer; Shan Mullin, a partner in the Perkins Coie law firm; Marsha Pechman, a U.S. District Court judge; William Ruckelshaus, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Pat Stanford and Dina Wells, community volunteers.
Sullivan selected the committee members. A news release said many of them have had personal experiences with cancer.
"We take our charge seriously, realizing also that the public, as well as the Hutchinson Center, is counting on us to conduct the review efficiently and responsibly," Sullivan said in the release. "We all believe strongly that patient protection is a priority and know that clinical trials are important to finding cures for deadly diseases."
Sullivan did not return phone calls and e-mails yesterday.
Mullin is vice chairman of the Hutchinson Board of Trustees. Pat Stanford, whose husband died after treatment at The Hutch for leukemia, is a member of the Hutchinson Foundation Board of Directors. Pechman survived late-stage breast cancer with a stem-cell transplant from The Hutch in 1993. Dr. William Bensinger, the principal investigator in one of the studies portrayed in the newspaper series, was also director of the stem-cell program Pechman credits with saving her life.
Ruckelshaus and his wife are major donors to The Hutch.
The center is the world's top bone-marrow transplant center and the leading nonprofit center in National Cancer Institute research funding each of the last 13 years. It received $142 million from the federal government last year.
The committee said it will select "nationally recognized independent experts" in its review.