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NUI Sance

Stanford’s got a bit of a problem on its hands. It’s the sort of problem you get when you’re an exceedingly entrepreneurial university and you’ve got your hands and your professors’ hands in a lot of businesses.

Remember the problem they had with Alan Schatzberg’s investments and Alan Schatzberg’s research? It just doesn’t look good for empirical analysis when you stand to make gazillions on its outcome… So Stanford spends half its time tweaking its conflict of interest rules…

And another thing. Take NU Skin, an outfit that, among other things, sells face-whitening cream to women in the Philippines who want to look white, and an outfit with which Stanford’s had a long relationship (meaning NU Skin gives Stanford big money to do anti-aging research). NU Skin’s in serious trouble with the FDA for this and that — the usual stuff, questionable marketing tactics, questionable claims… And Stanford’s name’s being dragged into it… NU Skin’s scientific claims for its products rest on its association with Stanford researchers, and NU Skin talks up that association in its advertising.

So, seeing the shit about to hit the fan, Stanford has done a cease and desist letter

asking the company to stop using a university researcher’s name in its advertising, adding new scrutiny to the skin product maker’s business claims and practices.

According to a copy of the letter emailed to Reuters, Stanford geneticist Stuart Kim is listed as a “Nu Skin Partner” in developing its ageLOC anti-aging products, though he has nothing to do with the company. Nu Skin touts its skin creams and pills as using innovative technology to “reset” genes that promote a more youthful look and feel for its clients, according to its website.

“Neither Dr. Kim nor Stanford is a ‘Nu Skin Partner’ and neither has anything to do with the company,” states the letter, signed by Steven Rosen from Stanford’s Office of the General Counsel.

Which isn’t true, I’m afraid. Kim did do research with NU Skin money (he doesn’t anymore), and while that doesn’t make him what you’d call a “partner,” I guess, it certainly doesn’t rise to nothing to do with the company. To make matters even less factual, Stanford indeed continues its long association with NU Skin via the work of other faculty researchers.

As this guy, an outraged NU Skin investor (its stock value has withered like a ninety year old kneecap) points out, Stanford had to issue another letter directly contradicting this one and admitting that the school has plenty of NU Skin in the game:

Not only does the university cite their longstanding relationship with the company, they essentially apologize for creating any misunderstanding that a relationship did not exist.

It is rather bad form to take millions and millions of dollars from someone, and then when that person has a run-in with the law to disown him. But these are the dilemmas inherent in the entrepreneurial university business model.

Margaret Soltan, August 19, 2012 1:16PM
Posted in: conflict of interest

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One Response to “NUI Sance”

  1. MattF Says:

    Note current xkcd, ‘Clinically Studied Ingredient’:


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