A Cancer Study’s Secret Funder (11): Kyoto University Hospital threatens to call the police

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Makoto Watanabe and the Waseda Chronicle team

・2 min read

Chugai Pharmaceutical funded a clinical trial testing the effectiveness of its own drug Xeloda against breast cancer. The trial results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Normally, such publications must disclose a trial’s funders, but in this case Chugai’s name was left out.

Why?

We questioned Masakazu Toi, director of Kyoto University Hospital’s Breast Cancer Unit and the one in charge of the Xeloda trial’s publication. But Toi’s lips were sealed.

“Regrettable in the extreme”

On Jan. 31, 2020, four days after we spoke with Toi, we received an email from a member of Kyoto University Hospital’s general affairs department in charge of planning and PR.

The subject line read “Regarding actions by associates of your organization.”

Attached to the email was a PDF, which turned out to be a written objection to our recent interview with Toi. It was from Kyoto University Hospital Director Susumu Miyamoto. Here’s what he said.

“Around 4 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2020, two individuals identifying themselves as members of your organization [Waseda Chronicle] tried, without receiving permission from Kyoto University Hospital, to interview an employee within the hospital’s facilities.

“In order to ensure that patients receive treatment in a safe, tranquil environment, as a general rule we do not allow interviews to be conducted in the hospital’s communal spaces such as wards, waiting rooms, and hallways. We require those wishing to conduct an interview to obtain permission in advance.

“If, in fact, these recent actions were committed by associates of your organization, it would be regrettable in the extreme, not only for disturbing our employee’s work but for inconveniencing patients.

“If an incident of this nature occurs again, you will be requested to leave the hospital premises or we will call the police.”

“The police”? Kyoto University Hospital really didn’t want us poking around.

But we made repeated requests for an interview

Waseda Chronicle asked multiple times to interview Toi.

In November 2019, we requested an interview via the hospital’s general affairs department. Toi said he was “too busy” and turned us down.

On Jan. 7, 2020, we once again emailed asking to interview Toi.

That time, we also mentioned that we had been told to refer our questions to Toi by Shinji Ohno, chief of the Cancer Institute Hospital of JFCR’s Breast Oncology Center and one of the doctors who had participated in the Xeloda trial.

We said we would meet with Toi at any time and place of his choosing and that even 30 minutes would be enough for an interview.

But we received nothing in response. That’s why we went to see Toi at the hospital.

We only spoke with him after he had finished his work, in a communal area that included not only patients but also pharmaceutical company employees and ordinary visitors. Not once did we raise our voices or do anything to disturb patients.

So why had Kyoto University Hospital reacted like this?

… To be continued.

(Originally published in Japanese on March 11, 2020. Translation by Annelise Giseburt.)

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