It would seem that even the venerable institutions of medicine need revenue: John Hopkins sponsors a skin care line.
Excerpts: One factor motivating Johns Hopkins Medicine to enter the relationship was its need for funding for its traditional research and teaching mission. "That is what sold it for me and to the leaders around the institution," Prof. Brancati said. "We have to be inventive and creative," he adds, because conventional funding sources are declining.
He and other officials declined to disclose the fees Johns Hopkins Medicine received from Klinger or to estimate how much revenue the venture may one day bring. Klinger, a unit of a publicly traded company, TrueYou.com Inc., plans to give the institution a yet-to-be-determined equity stake.
The executive committee of the Johns Hopkins Medicine board of trustees gave Klinger final approval for use of the Johns Hopkins name on the products in January.
But at least one medical ethicist says Johns Hopkins is walking a tightrope. "I can't find any evidence of a school that has associated itself with a product line in this way," says Arthur L. Caplan, chairman of the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Medical Ethics. "Unless you have acute vision and a lot of time to read (the small print), this is going to look like a product endorsement."
Dr. Caplan says Klinger's plans to give Johns Hopkins equity in the company raise a red flag. There aren't many rules for managing conflicts of interest in the academic world, but it is a clear violation to "study what you own," he says. Johns Hopkins emphasizes that its role -- evaluating clinical trials done elsewhere -- doesn't constitute research. That's "a difficult stance to reconcile," Dr. Caplan says.
Dean Miller says the institution scrutinized the deal to make sure it didn't represent a conflict between financial and research interests. Johns Hopkins scientists who are validating the Cosmedicine studies don't own any equity in Klinger, he says. About 10 faculty members who are working on the project have received consulting fees from Klinger.
The relationship goes beyond skin care. Johns Hopkins also will work with Klinger to develop clinical "best practices" for the company's chain of spa-clinics. Klinger has 12 such facilities in major U.S. cities and is rolling out new ones this year. The clinics offer salon treatments and "light medical" services, such as Botox and Restylane shots. Johns Hopkins also has designed an 11-week training course for nurse practitioners at the spas.
Prices for Cosmedicine products range from $28 for a 0.36-ounce lip "plumper, hydrator and exfoliator," to $85 for a one-ounce skin "fortifying serum."
"The ability for Klinger to use our name and acknowledge our scientific contribution is a line that had never been crossed before," says Steve Libowitz, a senior administrator at Johns Hopkins Medicine. "We think we are in a relationship that will provide safety to the public" in a rapidly expanding field, he adds. "It's not cancer or coronary care, but it's where the people are."