Thursday, April 06, 2006
I’ll take the Hopkins lipstick, the Stanford rouge and oh yes, a six-pack of M.I.T. Beer--2nd DAY LEDE
So I'm walking down the street and I see a sign advertising Johns Hopkins skin cream, and I'm thinking, hmmm. I need to get me some--Johns Hopkins Medicine said yesterday it was backing out of a deal it made with a cosmetics firm that touted its product as having been developed in consultation with the prestigious medical school. The announcement came after waves of derision and really bad publicity suggesting some smearing of ethical lines.
The Wall Street Journal reported [subscription required] that Johns Hopkins Medicine was allowing a cosmetics firm to use its name on the label. The medical school and hospital were not endorsing the beauty care products, only affirming that the testing was done in consultation with Hopkins. You have to read the small print. The cosmetics company, Klinger Advanced Aesthetics has the Hopkins brand on a new premium-priced skin-care line sold by Sephora, a unit of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Payment for use of the name would go to research. All hell has predictably broken loose, with newspapers having no trouble finding ethicists who are appropriately appalled.
According to the Baltimore Sun, this is what happened: The president of the university, Dr. William Brody, was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York [I'm not making this up!] and saw a poster for a new line of expensive cosmetics trumpeting the name Johns Hopkins Medicine in big letters. "Gee, I didn't think that's where we were going to go with this." I was going to ask for a show of hands of anyone who believes that, but decided against it. I believe it.
The arrangement was unique. No other research university has ever come up with a commercial arrangement quite like this, and a number of ethicists thought Hopkins had crossed the line. Many in the faculty were unhappy, and one wonders what other donors might have felt about the deal. Hopkins was to get money, equity and a place on the company's board. It now has announced it was giving up the equity and the chair and that the company can't use the Hopkins name. To go any further would probably mean a law suit. Hopkins said it acted only as a consultant, and wasn't endorsing anything except the testing procedure.
Blame the urge to get research funded with the federal government pulling back. According to Frederick Brancati, professor of medicine and epidemiology, who, helped get Hopkns into this mess, “We have to be inventive and creative.” The use of the Hopkins name is not an endorsement of the product, he said. According to ethicist Art Caplan at the University of Pennsylvania, “Unless you have acute vision and a lot of time to read [the small print], this is going to look like a product endorsement.”
Indeed, if Klinger was sure people would read the fine print they wouldn’t be paying Hopkins. If Hopkins had agreed to monitor the tests without giving permission for Klinger to use its name, Klinger wouldn’t have bothered.
“Hopkins says they are not endorsing the product, but they are,” said Mildred Cho, associate director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, quoted in the Baltimore Sun. “What is the consumer supposed to take away from the fact that Hopkins’ name is attached to this product?”
Sephora’s website advertised Cosmedicine ™ “the first skincare line tested in consultation with Johns Hopkins Medicine.” Further clicking got you to a long, convoluted statement from Hopkins explaining the relationship, coming under the heading of protesting too much. If it takes you that long to explain what you have done, you probably shouldn’t have done it. The site is being changed.
In a great line, one former NIH researcher, quoted in the Sun, called the deal a ‘weapon of mass promotion... I don’t believe this is the function of a university.”
No it isn’t.
[Note to faithful readers: the owner of this here blog worked for Hopkins Medicine and was laid off two-and-a-half years ago on a financial restructuring. He is not amused. A family member still works there. He wishes them all well.]