News Release: University News

Sep. 11,  2009

Emory Extends Commitment to Research Integrity

With a number of actions over the summer — including the initiation of a new University-wide electronic registration system, passage of a comprehensive new School of Medicine conflict of interest policy, and receipt of a Presidential advisory committee report on managing professional conflicts — Emory has been working across a broad front to underscore its commitment to integrity in research; to guard its research enterprise and researchers from impropriety; and to manage potential conflicts effectively.

The President’s Advisory Commission on Research Integrity and Professional Conflict Management, chartered in November, transmitted its report to President Jim Wagner in late June.

Based on months of interviews and analysis, the commission, chaired by Ethics Center director Paul Root Wolpe, found that the University and its various schools have numerous policies that address conflicts of interest in some fashion. Work is needed, though, to make the policies accessible to faculty, educate faculty in their provisions, and then to follow through consistently with management plans once potential conflicts are discovered, the commission says.

Wagner says he is pleased with the constructive content of the report as well as with efforts being undertaken at the University and the School level.

  • A first significant step was taken last October, when the University created the first centralized office to administer and oversee potential conflicts of interest in research. 
  • In June, the School of Medicine issued an updated comprehensive policy on industry relations expanding advice to faculty, staff, students and trainees on guidelines for preventing conflicts of interest.
  • In July, the first phase of an electronic reporting system became operational under the aegis of the Office of Research Administration. It will be rolled out to faculty across the campus in phases during the 2009-2010 academic year. Plans call for it to tie together information from the Institutional Review Board, the Office of Sponsored Projects, and PeopleSoft (the new HR and payroll system). It will be used to more effectively track and manage conflict of interest plans by centralizing the records of disclosures and reports of outside activity from faculty and the records of annual certifications of compliance. The online system, eCOI, has four principal sections:
    • Faculty External Activities, where faculty members report their external activities, such as consulting agreements.
    • Proposal Financial Interest in Research, where research administrators & PIs initiate the process for research conflict of interest forms for their proposals.
    • Investigator's Financial Interest in Research (formerly known as COI-SPAF), where researchers report whether they have any significant financial interests associated with a specific research proposal.
    • Annual Certification, where faculty and researchers during the annual certification time period review their current external activities and financial interest in research and certify that they are up to date. (Currently this applies only to the School of Medicine.)

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“I am delighted to see abundant evidence of progress as we work on many fronts to enhance Emory’s commitment to keeping the public trust,” Wagner says. “As we do so, we will continue to affirm the importance of the University’s mission to serve humanity through the generation and application of knowledge.

“We seek to embrace, emphasize and enhance that commitment. We must be faithful stewards of the public’s investment in our research – whether that investment takes the form of federal grants, private gifts and pledges, or payments for patient care.”

The President’s Advisory Commission‘s principal recommendations were:

  • Revise the University-wide conflict of interest and commitment policy to more fully articulate a coherent and shared set of basic values, setting forth minimum standards to which School policies must conform.
  • Require effective faculty and staff education, including new faculty and staff orientation, and encourage mentoring on conflicts of interest and commitment.
  • Improve reporting and disclosure mechanisms. The commission noted approvingly that the eCOI system was being developed and readied for rollout even as the report was being prepared.
  • Require prompt and efficient management of reported external professional activity, with swift and fair enforcement of compliance.

The commission called for the development and dissemination of a clear statement of the values and principles that Emory’s policies are intended to uphold and apply.  Following that, it recommended that consideration be given to a university-wide umbrella policy that could be appended by each School to fit the particular circumstances of its faculty. 

In addition to Wolpe, the Commission included faculty members Dennis Choi, associate vice president and executive director of the Comprehensive Neurosciences Initiative; Max Cooper, an immunologist in the School of Medicine and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar; Consuelo Kertz, professor of accounting, Goizueta Business School; Christian P. Larsen, professor of surgery and director of the Emory Transplant Center; Polly J. Price, associate dean of faculty and professor of law; John Stuhr, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy; Kathy Griendling Taylor, professor of cardiology; Elaine Walker, Dobbs Professor of Psychology; and Carl Washington, professor of dermatology.

“I am tremendously grateful to Dr. Wolpe and his nine faculty colleagues, supported by Deputy General Counsel Steve Sencer, Vice President for Research Administration David Wynes, and Chancellor Mike Johns, for their hard and effective work,” says Wagner. “Not surprisingly, their efforts documented the extent to which Emory has long grappled with issues of professional conflict and commitment, but in a decentralized, School-centric manner that is very expressive of our culture and that of many research universities.”

“Acting on this commission’s primary recommendations will be this year’s imperative,” Wagner adds. “We will look to the Provost, the Deans, and the Office of Research Administration to advance this important agenda through policy synthesis, education, training and implementation over the course of the academic year. The adoption of the School of Medicine’s new comprehensive policy, the formation of the centralized office of conflict interest under the aegis of research administration, and the introduction and implementation of the new eCOI reporting system represent the breadth and depth of our ongoing commitment to improving our performance in this critical dimension.”

Presidential advisory committee report (PDF) >>


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