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Review of research grants flawed, ethics panel says

COLUMBUS - The review process that recommended a $10.2 million biomedical research grant for Case Western Reserve University was tainted, the Ohio Ethics Commission said yesterday.

In an advisory opinion, the commission said the Ohio Biomedical Research and Technology Transfer Commission, funded through the state's tobacco settlement, should not award the grant without another independent review of the application.

The commission could, however, fund three additional applications submitted by the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University that were recommended for funding but didn't have a conflict-of-interest problem with one of the principals involved in the review process.

If the commission agrees , it would mean that northwest Ohio's sole application, submitted by the University of Toledo, would not be reconsidered for funding.

Just before it was to award $31.7 million in grants to spur university research, the commission learned that one of the principals in the Washington Advisory Group hired to conduct the review had a direct interest in the Case Western project.

Dr. C. Thomas Caskey disclosed that he serves on the board of Athersys, Inc., one of the Cleveland university's partners in its proposal to delve into the genetics of gastrointestinal cancer. He is also chief executive officer of Cogene BioTech Ventures, an Athersys investor. Case Western was recommended for the largest of the grants to be awarded.

Executive Director Marc Cloutier said that the commission will discuss the ethics opinion next month to determine whether to narrow the new review to just the Case Western application.

“Although it appears from the facts that the conflict presented by [the Washington Advisory Group] directly involved only one grant application, [the commission] may find that the appearances of conflict to all of those in the applicant pool require it to independently review all other nonfunded proposals at this time,” the opinion stated.

The prior decision to conduct an entirely new review gave life to UT's $4.5 million application to translate genetically enhanced soybeans into marketable drugs or food additives. The Washington Advisory Group had recommended that UT's application not be funded.

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