A new look at the Hutch
A federal agency wants Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to answer complaints about two troubled experiments, and the Hutch should embrace the opportunity.
The Office for Human Research Protection can serve as the neutral arbiter in reviewing the circumstances in which 20 people died in controversial clinical trials.
Earlier this year, The Seattle Times told a complex story about patients who died prematurely in a blood-cancer experiment called Protocol 126, conducted from 1981 to 1993, and a breast-cancer experiment, Protocol 681, conducted from 1991 to 1998.
In both cases, patients were not fully informed about risks, alternatives and financial conflicts of interest. Doctors in both trials had financial interests in drugs being tested.
The Hutch is a venerated Northwest institution, with a history of scientific advancement and life-saving achievement. What The Times series described cut against the grain of that proud tradition, and the reaction was predictably angry and defensive.
In response, the Hutch has mounted its own review, using a combination of consultants, donors and supporters to assess an array of internal procedures. Work on this closely held process is still under way.
The appearance of the feds is long overdue, but welcome all the same. Eight years ago, another federal oversight agency attempted to examine complaints eventually aired by The Times, but the agency folded before any substantive work was done.
This new look, by a reconstituted agency, takes place in a time of upheaval with clinical trials, the latest coming at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, where an asthma study claimed the life of a healthy, 24-year-old volunteer.
Clinical trials have a vital role in advancing medical treatment and care. But they carry an extraordinary obligation to keep patients fully informed of the risks and hazards, along with the potential benefits.
Supporters and defenders of the Hutch should welcome this chance for the center to explain itself to an outside agency.