UI VP: Research accusation overblown


A UI professor is under investigation by a weekly medical journal for a possible conflict of interest stemming from a research article.

The work — an article by UI psychiatry Professor Robert Robinson about his study of Lexapro, an antidepressant drug for stroke patients — was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May 2008. His research compared the drug’s ability to prevent depression in people who have suffered a stroke to the ability of therapy.

In 2004, Robinson gave two talks at a conference in Tucson, Ariz., sponsored by Forest Laboratories — the company that makes Lexapro — and received $3,000.

He did not return messages left on Thursday at his office.

But UI interim Vice President for Research Jordan Cohen said the accusation has been blown out of proportion.

“It was a pretty minor issue,” he said. “It was a simple oversight, and [Robinson] corrected it immediately.”

Robinson’s Lexapro research was funded mainly by the National Institutes of Health, Cohen said. The Journal of the American Medical Association requires researchers to disclose funding from the past five years, he said.

The UI and NIH have a higher monetary threshold for requiring a report, and a $3,000 payment wouldn’t need to be disclosed, UI spokesman Steve Parrott said.

The university learned of the issue through an article in the Wall Street Journal, Cohen said. The accusation has garnered attention in national media, including the New York Times.

“Every time something comes to our attention, we have a standard approach to look into whether or not everything was done properly,” Cohen said.

When there’s a potential conflict, the investigation team at the UI — headed by Cohen — has an obligation to look into everyone on the research team and into any other university’s research groups involved.

In examining the accusation against Robinson, the UI’s process took about 10 days. Contacting everyone associated with the research was fairly easy, Cohen said, because many of the people were on campus.

“Dr. Robinson followed all university guidelines and NIH guidelines,” Cohen said.
Officials from the international journal in which Robinson’s work was published declined to comment Thursday night, citing their ongoing investigation into the matter. The publication is the “most widely circulated medical journal in the world,” according to the journal’s website.

“This doesn’t happen commonly; it happens occasionally,” Cohen said. “And the media have made it a bigger deal than it is, really.”

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