On Campus Blog

Auditor: I’ll review decade of U drug trials

The state legislative auditor says he will investigate the University of Minnesota's handling of drug trial patients over the past decade.

Calls for the investigation were prompted in part by the 2004 suicide of patient Dan Markingson.

Critics of the U say researchers coerced him into participating in a drug study against his mother's objections. And they say previous reviews of the case have been inadequate.

Auditor Jim Nobles says he'll look at the Markingson case as part of his review. And he'll look at how many other patients have died or been seriously injured in drug trials.

"A big part of this is about transparency and accountability," he said. "And so I think that is always better achieved through some external review that is not controlled by the university."

The chairs of the state's legislative higher-education committees, Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) and Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona), asked Nobles to conduct the review.

Nobles says he hopes to have a report finished by mid-autumn.

Early this month, the U hired a team to look into its research practices. University spokesman Chuck Tombarge says the U is confident of its standards, and that it welcomes the review.

"If this is what is needed to ensure the public's trust in the very high level of research that the University of Minnesota does," he said, "we will cooperate fully."

Leigh Turner, a bioethics professor at the U who has long called for an independent investigation, called the news "a very encouraging development."

"This is someone who appears to be independent of the university, not selected by the university, and not making the mistake of only looking at current practices and policies," he said.

Turner said he wishes the audit would extend to about 2000, so it could capture the troubling period around the Markingson case and possibly flag other problem cases.

Nobles said he was open to changing the period he studied as well as to meeting with the U's critics.

Among those questioning the U's practices and transparency in the matter is former Gov. Arne Carlson, who met this week with President Eric Kaler about the cases.