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January 23, 2004

Senate: Corruption in Govt-Medical Dealings

Want to be scared that the drugs you take are useless or worse?

Look at the financial payoffs government and university officials get from the medical industry to test and approve various drugs and procedures.

The Senate is now calling on the National Institutes of Health to clean up those corrupt business dealings:

The institutes' rules on consulting work used to be stricter but were relaxed in 1995, in part to help the agency recruit top scientists and avoid losing them to higher bidders.

Of about 6,000 scientists employed at the institutes, 228 now have outside consulting agreements, an agency spokesman said. Some have more than one, for a total of 365 agreements, many of which do not have to be disclosed to the public. There is no limit on how much money researchers can make, and they can accept stock or options. Consulting fees can total tens of thousands of dollars, and a few researchers have received stock options worth as much as $300,000.

This is only the headline problem-- as I wrote about in an article for the Nation last year, the rot infects all aspects of the medical profession:
An independent 1996 study found that 98 percent of scientific papers based on research sponsored by corporations promoted the effectiveness of a company's drug. By comparison, 79 percent of independent studies found that a new drug was effective. This corruption reaches from the doctors prescribing a drug to government review boards to university research centers...

The Food and Drug Administration, for reasons similar to those of the medical journals, routinely allows researchers with ties to the industry to sit on drug approval advisory committees. In many cases, half the panelists on such committees have a financial stake in the outcome, through links to the drug manufacturer or to a competitor...

As Dr. Marcia Angell, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, noted in the Baltimore Sun, "What would be considered a grotesque conflict of interest if a politician or judge did it is somehow not in a physician."

The result of these buyoffs is that negative research on corporate products is suppressed:
When one Toronto scientist revealed in 1998 a serious side effect of deferiprone, a drug for a blood disorder, her contract was terminated. More dramatically, when a number of researchers concluded that Remune, an anti-AIDS therapy, was of little benefit to patients, the company funding their research, the Immune Response Corporation, sued the scientists in 2001 for $10 million for damaging its business.

And these are the examples of scientists who spoke out. Many others just go along with the demands of their corporate sponsors and suppress negative evidence.

There's more, but as Bush auctions all aspects of our society and scientific establishment to corporate donors (not that it started with him, but it's getting worse), remember that the cost is not just wasted money but distortions of the truth that can and do literally kill.

Posted by Nathan at January 23, 2004 08:11 AM