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Congressional Panel Blasts FDA and NCI-Approved Consulting by Petricoin and Liotta as Outrage

This update includes comments from an attorney for Emanuel Petricoin.


NEW YORK, May 20 (GenomeWeb News) - A US Congressional subcommittee on Tuesday said that consulting activities performed by Emanuel Petricoin and Lance Liotta and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and the US National Cancer Institute represent "an outrage," ProteoMonitor, GenomeWeb News' sister publication, has learned.


Petricoin and Liotta, co-directors of the NCI-FDA Clinical Proteomics program, testified on Tuesday before the US Congressional Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations about consulting deals they had with Biospect, a proteomics-based biomarker discovery company based in South San Francisco, Calif.


The subcommittee, which is also investigating similar consulting and other paid work performed by NIH employees, alleges that the deal represented a conflict of interest with the pair's April 2002 CRADA agreement with Correlogic to develop a test for ovarian cancer. CRADA agreements allow for the government to collaborate with outside organizations on R&D work.


"This isn't transparency; this is an outrage," Rep. James Greenwood (R-Penn.), chairman of the subcommittee, said during the hearing, according to transcripts.


Chuck Morton, a Baltimore-based attorney for Petricoin with the law firm Venable, said Petricoin and Liotta "categorically deny that there was anything about their activity with Bisopect that distracted their loyalties or attention from their efforts at NIH."


In the fall of 2002, the FDA allowed Petricoin, and the US National Cancer Institute permitted Liotta, to consult for Biospect, now called Predicant Biosciences. According to the subcommittee, the consulting agreement covered the areas of diagnostic devices, serum handling, and microfluidics, but not pattern analysis -- which is the service that Correlogic was providing to the partnership.


The following year, Correlogic complained to the NCI that the deal represented a conflict of interest, according to the subcommittee. The NCI re-evaluated the deal and re-approved it.


"The NCI recognized that Biospect and Correlogic did business in the same area, but Carl Barrett [director of the NCI's Center for Cancer Research], Liotta's supervisor, decided that the consulting was restricted to areas that did not overlap with Liotta's duties," Greenwoodsaid during the hearing.


Liotta said in his testimony: "My understanding was that Correlogic was a software company, in contrast with Biospect, that I understood to be a scientific instrument company. ... I understood Biospect was in the early stages of developing a new instrument and scientific technology which employed its proprietary chemistry to separate and identify molecules."


Greenwoodsided with Correlogic in his assessment, saying that the NCI and FDA "allowed government scientist partnerhips with Correlogic to secretly provide consulting services without the knowledge or consent of Correlogic to Correlogic's competitor. What happens to public trust?" He said that Correlogic should have been notified and consulted about the arrangement.


Petricoin's attorney, Morton, said that "while Chairman Greenwood was concerned at the beginning, at the end of the testimony, at least with respect to them, there [seemed to be] far less concern than there had been at the beginning." 


A complete version of this article will appear in the May 21 issue of ProteoMonitor.

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