Feud Over Parkinson's Drug Trial Reveals Power of Gatekeepers

Scan of brain with Parkinson's Disease
Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A dispute between Dr. Charbel Moussa, a scientist at Georgetown University, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) has exposed some challenges of conducting independent drug research in collaboration with a major advocacy group. An article in STAT outlines the conflict, noting that the MJFF-funded Phase 2 trial based on Moussa's previous research "was supposed to begin in October, but Fox and the Georgetown team had a bitter falling out, and it’s unclear whether Georgetown will be able to obtain the medicine from its manufacturer so that the study can proceed. [MJFF], meanwhile, is moving forward on its own, and has established a separate group to study the same drug." The article provides a glimpse into unusually public discord within the world of high-stakes research. In a statement, MJFF states the conflict with Dr. Moussa and his team is a result of differences of opinion regarding the design and execution of the study, citing "the limitations of open-label clinical trials in Parkinson's, which have been shown to be disproportionately affected by placebo response." Leigh Turner, a professor at Consortium member the Center for Bioethics, is quoted in the STAT article, saying funders and journal editors should "be above reproach in their handling of insider information. [Turner cautions] 'You have these gatekeeper moments, where it is possible to take advantage of positions like that, to gobble up as much information as possible, and repurpose it for your own advantage.'"