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June 11, 2007

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 06/11/2007

Consumer Groups Protest NAS Panel Weighing Cell Phone Research Agenda

Two out of seven provisional appointees to a National Academies of Science panel studying the health effects of cell phone use have ties to firms or trade groups that make electromagnetic radiation-emitting devices. The study, which was requested by the Food and Drug Administration but funded by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), an industry trade group, will identify further research needs in the field. In a protest letter filed Friday, the Center for Science in the Public Interest pointed out that not only do two of the proposed scientists have ties to industry, but no nominee has the expertise needed to identify the possible health effects of chronic exposure to electromagnetic radiation. “The NAS must not appoint the two conflicted nominees and add experts on human health effects,” the letter stated.

Five of the seven tentative appointees are physicists and engineers, including Dr. Bernard Veyret, who is on the consulting board of a French mobile phone provider, has contracts with other providers, and has received research funding from Electricite de France, the operator of the French electricity grid. The sole member with a background in epidemiology—Dr. Leeka I. Kheifets—has been employed for much of the past 20 years with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)—the research arm of the electric power industry—and has received research funding from the industry. The need for health effects research is indicated by recent human studies suggesting an elevated risk of brain tumors and sterility from persistent exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

Funding Source Predicts Statin Trial Results, Study Says

When head-to-head comparison trials of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are funded by industry, they are much more likely to favor the drug made by the trial’s sponsor, a new study in PLoS Medicine showed. Lisa Bero and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco reviewed 192 studies comparing the six most commonly-prescribed statins. They found the researchers were 20 times more likely to favor the trial sponsor’s drug than similar trials that were not funded by industry. “The industry-funded drug-to-drug comparisons are very important to monitor because clinical decisions are made based on these studies,” she said. According to the analysis, results favoring industry correlated with inadequate sample sizes and inadequate blinding techniques. Bero suggested another explanation for the results may be that some companies bury studies that turn up negative results for their products.

Did FDA, Glaxo Try to Silence Critics?

After a Food and Drug Administration scientist pushed for an early safety warning on the diabetes drug Avandia, she was taken off the project, the New York Times reported. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) has launched an investigation into the FDA’s alleged effort to squelch Rosemary Johann-Liann’s concern that Avandia increased cardiovascular risk in diabetes patients. Meanwhile, John B. Buse, the next head of the American Diabetes Association, told the House Government Reform committee last week that GlaxoSmithKline, Avandia’s maker, threatened to hold him personally liable for the company’s sharp stock price drop when he first raised concerns in 1999 about Avandia’s potential to cause heart attacks. Most newspaper accounts of Buse’s charge, including this one in the Washington Post, failed to note that Buse in recent years has received funding from numerous pharmaceutical companies that compete with Glaxo.

EPA Officials Fly Free on Industry Nickel

A new study from the Center for Public Integrity found that Environmental Protection Agency officials took more than $12 million from special interest groups for travel expenses between October 1997 and March 2006. About 15 percent of the money came from groups that lobby the federal government. While non-profit groups and universities were responsible for most of the payments, EPA travel funders also included the American Chemical Foundation, which spent $50,000 on at least 50 trips, and the American Petroleum Foundation, which spent $14,500 on EPA travel.

Odds and Ends

The Minnesota Star-Tribune has called on the Food and Drug Administration to begin tracking all drug company payments to physicians who enroll their patients in industry-funded clinical trials . . . Kentucky cardiologist James Holsinger, the Bush Administration’s nominee for Surgeon General, is under fire from gay rights groups for his anti-homosexual statements in early 1990s and more recent efforts to expel a lesbian pastor from the United Methodist Church.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheer: To online research digest Journal Watch, run by the publishers of the New England Journal of Medicine, for making the author conflict of interest disclosures more accessible to readers. The policy change was reported Friday by the Wall Street Journal (subscription required). The difficulty in finding conflict disclosures on the Journal Watch website was first disclosed in mid-May by Integrity in Science Watch.

  • Jeer: To the Washington Post and other outlets that ran a Reuters report suggesting a large increase in Alzheimer’s patients for not reporting the John's Hopkins study was funded by Wyeth and Elan Corp, which are developing Alzheimer’s drugs. The Associated Press and Bloomberg disclosed the conflict of interest.