I Wanted to Keep Things Casual, but I’m in Love with the Company That Funds My Research

Patty Terhune
Feb 13, 2019 · 4 min read

“A senior official at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has received millions of dollars in payments from companies that are involved in medical research.” — ProPublica

I was chilling at an on-campus event for pharmaceutical researchers and donors, taking a few branded pens here and a couple of logo koozies there from the eligible sponsors, but I wasn’t looking to seriously commit my research to any potential revenue streams. My department head had recommended that I get out of the house that night, go meet some new people. After the last private donor and I became public knowledge, likely spilled by a jealous rival researcher, consumers had a lot to say about “sleazy” “conflicts of interest” and “manipulation” that “may severely damage the integrity of the market.” That’s why I was determined to keep things cool and casual with anyone I might meet.

And then I saw them standing there, with a fluorescent blue poster board covered in an obscene amount of text that no one would possibly take the time to read.

SciPharmX. The private drug corporation funding the exact drug I am doing research on.

Like anyone of a certain works-cited count, I couldn’t help but swoon.

As if they could feel my presence, they slowly stopped talking to the physics researcher that totally had nothing in common with them and turned to make eye-contact with me. They smiled — the kind of smile that feels like coming back to the safety of the lab, after a long day defending the ethics of your research methods to university administration. It felt like home.

And, like all bodies in nature, we heated up fast. They would constantly send me gifts, nice meals or additional monetary funds without any formal written requests. I can’t even count the number of times that I would look up from a preliminary data analysis, with a furrow in my brow, absolutely exhausted by the lack of resources I had at my disposal, and see a bouquet of brand new stethoscopes. I know this looks bad. But, I was an overworked and under-resourced researcher and they made things possible for me.

My colleagues keep telling me I shouldn’t get involved with “someone who thinks they can buy my approval or bribe me to put my name on a positive article that they write.” My co-workers don’t get it though. SciPharmX only wrote the draft of my report because they thought I was working myself too hard. And they were right. While bathing in the swimming pool they installed in my backyard I realized that Dave who teaches the micro-biology symposium is just jealous.

Sure, SciPharmX is the only thing keeping my research afloat because of the disastrous funding structures of universities and government grants. But they are making my dreams come true in a way that makes each day feel like a fantasy. If I could go back in time, I would tell my graduate-school-self to keep dreaming big. One day you WILL find someone who can bend the limits of budgets and deadlines for you.

But, like I always tell my study participants when they report side effects of the drug, it’s nothing serious. My research on their drug isn’t even affected by the way they are always there when I need them. It isn’t affected by the way they are responsive to my requests (sometimes before I even make them). And it most certainly isn’t affected by the way they made a weary and weathered scientist like me believe. If my conclusions were biased, would medical journals be publishing my results?

I won’t say that after everything we have been through, as SciPharmX has shifted from a business partner to a life partner, that I am now going to publish a study that gives them an almost inexplicably good review. I won’t say that the long nights we shared, that no one knows about but us, will win them the highest recommendation to physicians and consumers. I won’t say that all of their persistence paid off because now I can see why SciPharmX could, indeed, be the cure to modern man’s major ailments and that I cannot imagine my life or anyone’s life without it. I won’t say that because, perhaps, I have always known it to be true.

And it’s with all of this said that I would like announce the unbiased results of my study.

Slackjaw

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