Academic medical centers that contract with Los Angeles-based Salick Health Care say it's too soon to tell how a British drugmaker's buyout of the cancer-care company and alleged ouster of its founder, Bernard Salick, M.D., will affect those agreements.
"I think it's too early to even talk about," said Andrew Smith, a spokesman for Temple University Health Sciences Center in Philadelphia, one of 11 hospital-based outpatient cancer centers operated by Salick.
But a spokeswoman for Berkeley, Calif.-based Alta Bates Medical Center, another Salick site, said management is examining the situation.
"We really don't know how it will change (or) if anything will change," the spokeswoman said.
Last week, London-based Zeneca Group completed its buyout of Salick, begun in 1995 when it acquired 50% of the company. The $9 billion pharmaceutical concern then placed Zeneca's Michael J. O'Brien in charge of Salick Health Care's operations.
Anthony LaMacchia, senior vice president of operations at Salick Health Care, said none of its hospital affiliates had voiced concern about the latest developments.
Salick specializes in providing patient-friendly healthcare services. In addition to 11 outpatient cancer sites, the company operates 10 outpatient dialysis centers and provides inpatient dialysis at more than 20 hospitals across the country.
Under Salick's 10- to 35-year management agreements with hospitals, the company provides the equipment and management expertise needed to run its medical center-based outpatient centers. Salick retains 80% to 85% of the net profits.
In 1995, the company agreed to sell 50% of its stock to Zeneca in a $204 million transaction designed to help Salick expand. Late last month, Zeneca said it would buy the remaining shares of the company in a deal valued at $234 million (March 31, p. 7).
Some observers say such integration strategies, which pair drugmakers with drug prescribers, raise ethical questions (Dec 16, 1996, p. 2).
But Judith Auchard, a spokeswoman at Zeneca's U.S. headquarters in Wilmington, Del., said the purchase of Salick never was about selling more drugs.
"It's about Zeneca having access to outcomes data," she said.
The volume of Zeneca products prescribed by Salick doctors is just 2% of all the drugs they prescribe and "a minute fraction of a percent of Zeneca's total pharmaceutical sales," she added. "In our view, there is no conflict of interest."
Regina E. Herzlinger, a Harvard Business School economist and former member of Salick's board of directors, doesn't worry about Zeneca pressuring doctors to use its drugs because that would be "kind of stupid." Nor does she worry about oncologists folding under such pressures because they are "so strong minded, so devoted to what they are doing."
As for Bernard Salick, when his company chose Zeneca as its capital partner back in 1995, he never imagined that two years later he would be on the outside.
"He intended to be carried out with his boots on in a horizontal direction. Instead he was locked out with his boots on while standing vertically," said Marshall B. Grossman, a Los Angeles attorney who spoke last week on Salick's behalf.
Zeneca's Auchard said Salick was offered a role as a strategic adviser, which he turned down. But Grossman contended that Zeneca's offer "was essentially a figurehead position. It carried no responsibility for patient quality or day-to-day management." Salick's five-year contract with Zeneca was terminated without warning or cause, Grossman said, though Salick doesn't intend to sue Zeneca.
Salick's stake in his company had been worth about $120 million. He said last week he plans to form a company to provide diagnostic and therapeutic services to patients with catastrophic illness.