The National Cancer Institute and one of the nation's largest university-affiliated cancer research laboratories were sharply criticized yesterday in a federal report. It said the lab received federal money for improperly awarded and poorly monitored studies which produced results that may be of dubious value.
The General Accounting Office said the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases located in Omaha, got $22.8 million in U.S. cancer funds since 1968 despite objections to a number of its research proposals from NCI's own contract reviewers.
The investigation by the congressional agency, requested by Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), is critical throughout of NCI and Eppley. Eppley's director, Dr. Phillippe Shubik, is not memtioned by name nor does the report note that Shubik is a longtime member of the National Cancer Advisory Board, a major NCI policy-making body.
Obey, in a statement yesterday questioned whether "political influence" was involved in the awarding and monitoring of the contracts.
GAO officials said recently that they plan a separate, broader inquiry into the private and nonprofit research labs and possibly conflicts of interest among them.
In yesterday's report GAO said the research contract and renewals to Eppley Institute were awarded on a noncompetitive basic. Justification for the absence of competition was "weak and not totally supported by facts," the report stated.
The cancer institute bypassed its normal review procedures in setting up and ad hoc committee to oversee Eppley's contract proposals and then ignored objections from the committee that some of the proposals were ill-conceived, said the GAO.
"One reviewer stated," the GAO report said, "that he had no detailed comments because previous experience hand shown that reviewers criticims and suggestions are uniformly ignored" by NCI officials.
The federal investigators called NCI monitoring of Eppley's contracts "mostly informal, inadequate and ineffective."
In some cases, they said, Eppley shuffled funds to back research projects that had been rejected earlier by NCI. The report said Eppley ussed federal money to open 11 research projects that were never approved by NCI. In other instances equipment, test animals and travel money were shonted without approval from federal to private projects Eppley was conducting at the same time, the report said.
The report, noting that an unusually large number of articles were published in scientific journals about Eppley's research, said NCI officials had not read most of the articles and were not in a position to determine if the research was adequate.
In addition, Eppley was critized for refusing to submit much of its research for entry into NCI's computerized data bank. The result was a elay in the government's huge bioasay program to determine chemical cancer dangers, the GAO said.
Phillip Issenberg, an Eppley spokesman, said yesterday that the institute which is affiliated with the University of Nebraska, performed most of its NCI work adequately and that all of the errors found by the GAO have been corrected.
Issenberg, "categorically rejected". Obey's suggestion of possible political influence in the awarding of the NCI contracts to Eppley, and said the GAO was not qualified to judge the worth of the research results.