Accreditation, Cost Controls in Works for Kentucky Lab

The Kentucky Racing Commission has approved an agreement with the University of Kentucky for the college to apply for accreditation of its Animal Drug Testing Program and better monitor projects and control related costs.

The agreement, which developed from discussions between Ned Bonnie, a member of the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council, and Scott Smith, dean and director of the College of Agriculture, has been in the works for months. The drug council met June 12 in Louisville just before the racing commission met to unanimously approve the agreement.

The accreditation process, expected to cost about $20,000 over a four-year period, will begin immediately.

The drug council since last year has pushed for more oversight at the Gluck Equine Research Center at UK. Currently, money for projects flows directly to Dr. Thomas Tobin, a pharmacologist and lead investigator at the center. Under the agreement, the money will go to the University of Kentucky Research Foundation, and filter back to Tobin and the department.

In a May 28 letter to Smith, Bonnie said UK, the College of Agriculture, Tobin, and other parties "agree that in lieu of reviewing Dr. Tobin's drug testing and drug research work, and drafting a disclosure and conflict of interest policy for the drug council and Dr. Tobin, it would be in the best interest of all parties to agree that all sums received by the Kentucky Racing paid to the University of Kentucky Research Foundation."

"We want to get under the UK umbrella," Bonnie said at the June 12 meeting. Smith, also on hand for the drug council meeting, echoed Bonnie's sentiments and said the agreement "lays the groundwork for a much-improved process for developing accountability for the equine pharmacology research program."

The drug council also has pushed for the right to spend research dollars out of state, something it can't do under Kentucky statute. (Legislation to allow for it was written earlier this year but never came up for discussion by lawmakers.) When asked if the new arrangement would allow some racing commission and drug council funds to be spend out of state, Bonnie said it might, but only as part of the research process.

"One requirement is transferability and external validation (of research)," Bonnie said. "That would require paying someone out of state."

A national review committee made up of university representatives from Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania was formed earlier to handle a review of the Gluck laboratory. Though the group recommended accreditation of the lab, the agreement now negates the need for further work, which Bonnie said would save the racing commission about $25,000.

"The net result (of this process) is drug testing and a research lab that will be a leader in the racing industry," Bonnie said.

When asked if the plan is for UK to eventually conduct equine drug testing as it did years ago, Bonnie said that's "not on my radar screen at the moment." The American Association of Laboratory Regulation regularly deals with labs that work in conjunction with regulatory programs.

Iowa State University, under the direction of Dr. Walter Hyde, holds Kentucky's equine drug testing contract. Hyde was one of the members of the national review committee put together by the drug council.

"We're willing to pay to have quality and sophistication in the work," racing commission chairman Frank Shoop said. "The industry in Kentucky is looking for world-class research, and we're willing to pay the price."

The drug council has a budget in excess of $750,000 this year. The racing commission, like other Kentucky agencies, has been impacted financially by the state's budget deficit.