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June 4, 2007

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 06/04/2007

Von Eschenbach: FDA Wants Closer Ties with Industry . . .

Ignoring the growing outcry over drug safety and consumer fears that the Food and Drug Administration has grown too close to the firms it regulates, commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach told a press briefing last week that he’d like to see the agency forge closer ties with the drug, biotechnology and medical device companies, the New York Times and other news outlets reported. “The point is that we need to look at the role of the F.D.A. in being a bridge to the future, not a barrier to the future,” he said. The House Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), will hold a hearing this week on the agency’s failure to act in a timely manner on GlaxoSmithKline’s Avandia, the diabetes drug that increases the risk of heart attacks, according to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

. . . While Avandia Study Author Alleges FDA Smear Campaign

Dr. Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, who co-wrote that Avandia study, last week accused a former industry p.r. man now working for the FDA of running an Internet smear campaign against him, Nightline reported. Douglas Arbesfeld allegedly circulated an email to reporters accusing Nissen of threatening drug manufacturers with negative reviews of their products if they did not use the Cleveland Clinic for drug trials. Nissen denied the accusation. An FDA spokesman said Arbesfeld’s email did not represent the views of the agency.

Exxon Shareholders Axe Alternative Energy Push

In a defeat for environmentalists, Exxon Mobil shareholders last week voted down resolutions aimed at limiting the oil giant’s greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the company’s investment in renewable technologies, the Washington Post reported. The resolution seeking company support for greenhouse gas limits won 31 percent of shareholder votes, a respectable showing. But the resolution aimed at increasing the company’s investment in renewable energy research and development won just 7 percent of votes. Exxon CEO Rex W. Tillerson said oil and gas would remain dominant for at least another quarter century despite growing popular support for greenhouse gas limits and alternative fuels.

Help Wanted: Independent Toxicologists

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ National Toxicology Program is looking for experts to develop its next report on carcinogens. The cancer registry is used worldwide in setting regulatory standards for chemicals released into the environment. In comments sent to NIEHS, the Natural Resources Defense Council called on the NTP to accept experts without real or perceived conflicts of interest and bias if the agency wants to maintain the credibility of the report. Nominations can be sent to Dr. C. W. Jameson, Report on Carcinogens NIEHS, P.O Box 12233, MD EC–17, Research Triangle NC 27709; fax: (919) 541–0144, jameson@niehs.nih.gov, through June 8, 2007.

Should Shrek Disclose?

DreamWorks’ Shrek, the friendly green ogre now in his third incarnation at movie theaters everywhere, is fronting for both McDonald’s and a U.S. government anti-obesity campaign, the Boston Globe reported. In order to avoid appearing to endorse the movie, the Department of Health and Human Services last week temporarily pulled its public service ad where Shrek urges children to exercise. But the agency plans to resume running the ad in about six weeks. Shrek is also promoting about 75 food products, including McDonald’s Happy Meals, M&Ms, and Pop-Tarts, according to the story.

Odds and Ends

The House Natural Resources committee has launched an investigation into allegations in the Contra Costa Times that former Interior Department official Julie MacDonald removed the splittail fish from the endangered species list while earning $1 million a year from a farm located within the disputed habitat. She resigned from her post as assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks last month . . . The ex-head of China’s FDA was sentenced to death for corrupt practices including the approval of faulty antibiotics that killed 6 people and injured 80 . . . Some scientists say the EPA is using risk assessment tests that are poorly designed and easily manipulated by the chemical industry, according to Dallas News.

Cheers and Jeers:

  • Jeer: To Investors.com for not disclosing Sallie Baliunas’s ties to industry.
  • Cheer: To the New York Times for its front page story on June 3 exposing the drug industry's payments for speaking, consulting and running clinical trials to physicians who had been disciplined by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice.