Integrity in Science Watch|
Week of 04/07/2008
Researchers Admit Liggett Helped Fund Lung Cancer Study
The editors of the New England Journal of Medicine last week ran a letter from the authors of a controversial lung cancer screening study that admitted they had received $3.6 million from the parent of Liggett Tobacco. The money had been funneled through a non-profit housed at Weill-Cornell Medical School in New York called the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention and Treatment, whose name but not funding source had appeared in the original 2006 article. In an editorial last week, the editors expressed concern about accepting money from tobacco companies to fund lung cancer research, but did not categorically state they would not have run the study had they known. “Given the enormous burden of smoking-related illness and the ongoing sale of cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, one might question the advisability of research entities accepting funding from tobacco companies except through the American Legacy Foundation, which distributes funds received through the Master Settlement Agreement with U.S. tobacco companies,” they wrote.
In a related correction, the nation’s best-known medical journal also confirmed that Weill-Cornell researchers Claudia Henschke and David Yankelevitz had received royalties from pending patents licensed to General Electric. The patents involved methods of assessing tumor growth from reading imaging tests used in the study. Last month, the editors of NEJM responded to complaints about the researchers’ failure to disclose about a dozen patents and pending patents with a statement claiming the authors had disclosed the information in forms submitted to the journal, but the editors had dismissed their relevance to the article. Asked whether the editors were retracting their earlier statement on the patents’ relevance, NEJM spokeswoman Karen Pedersen told Integrity in Science Watch that “there would have been no correction without the royalties.”
Four Elite Colleges Admit Taking Tobacco Money
Four Massachusetts universities have received funds for scientific research from the nation’s largest cigarette maker, according to a report last week in the Boston Globe. Since 2000, scientists at Boston University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Massachusetts have received research grants from Philip Morris USA. In addition, Tufts University admitted receiving one small grant in 2006 from the Philip Morris External Research Program, whose grants were used primarily for heart disease and cancer research, according to company spokesman David M. Sylvia.
Globally, Philip Morris USA still funds 470 different research projects that so far have produced 1,000 scientific articles, Sylvia told the Globe. The company ended the program last year. Boston University alone received $4 million over the last decade from the company to examine tobacco-related diseases, reported the university’s medical campus provost, Karen Antman. At UMass, a spokeswoman said that although the school has no current research supported by tobacco, the school has accepted “no more than” $2 million over the past decade. Harvard Medical School ordered its faculty to stop pursuing new tobacco funded grants in July 2004. However, researchers with ongoing projects funded by tobacco companies were allowed to continue.
In the 1950s, cigarette companies began funding university researchers who downplayed the dangers of smoking. About a decade ago, some universities stopped accepting grants from tobacco companies. “Taking money from the tobacco industry to conduct scientific research is like the DA taking money from the Mafia to conduct investigations of crime,” Gregory Connolly, a Harvard School of Public Health professor and former director of the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, told the Globe.
Congress Considers FACA Overhaul
A subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week held a FACA was passed in 1972 amid concerns that federal agency decision makers were overly influenced by special interests. Critics say that over the years court rulings and the agencies themselves have weakened its provisions for transparency of advisory committee proceedings and independence of committee members. “[T]he Executive Branch has violated the spirit, if not the letter, of FACA and damaged the credibility of the agencies,” Sidney Shapiro of the Center for Progressive Reform testified at the hearing. “[FACA] has failed to achieve its goals because of judicial missteps and administrative efforts to avoid accountability.”
The revamped act, H.R. 5687 sponsored by Rep. William L. Clay (D-MO), would require agencies to post on their websites information about the conflicts of interest of committee appointees, and whether the appointees were subject to screening for conflicts of interest. A 2004 GAO report found that many federal agencies were appointing committee members as representatives of stakeholder groups, a move that bypasses the conflict of interest screening normally required by FACA. The proposed legislation also would close loopholes in the existing law that enable federal agencies to contract with private entities—which are not subject to conflict of interest prohibitions—to do advisory committee work and to exempt certain types of committees from conflict of interest requirements.
Reps Investigate ACC Influence
Representatives John Dingell (D-MI) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are investigating the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) relationship to the International Society for Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (ISRTP), which publishes the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. In 2002, several scientists noted “apparent conflicts of interests, lack of transparency, and absence of editorial independence” in the journal, and suggested that the ACC’s funding of ISRTP may have led to bias in the journal toward studies that promote the chemical industry. The lawmakers’ letter last week to ACC president Jack Gerard also asks for information related to the trade group’s request that the Environmental Protection Agency remove toxicologist Deborah Rice from an agency panel charged with reviewing the toxicity of flame retardants. The letter asks the ACC to explain its request for Rice’s removal and to explain why the group raised no objections to a series of researchers with financial ties to industry who served on previous EPA panels. “Please explain why [these researchers’] circumstances are distinguishable from that of Dr. Deborah Rice,” the letter asks.
Clorox Deal Causes Sierra Club Schism
The Sierra Club has suspended the leadership of its Florida chapter following the chapter’s criticism of a deal between the national environmental group and the Clorox Company. The group’s national board voted March 25 to suspend the chapter’s executive committee, which had objected to the organization’s 2007 agreement to place the Sierra Club name and logo on a new line of Clorox cleaning products that will be marketed under the name “Green Works.” The deal includes a fee paid to the group based on product sales. The deal was negotiated late last year while the company was being fined $95,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency for violating U.S. pesticide laws. Sierra Club President Robert Cox says that the suspension had nothing to do with the chapter leaders’ opposition to the Clorox deal, and was instead motivated by the concern that “factionalism compromised the Chapter's ability to accomplish its conservation work.”
Odds and Ends
The House’s Science and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing last week investigating if FEMA and other government officials, including those at the CDC, downplayed the dangers of formaldehyde exposure in trailers of Hurricane Katrina victims. Christopher De Rosa, a government toxicologist, testified at the hearing that his concerns about the trailers’ health risks and the need to inform the public were repeatedly ignored by senior officials at the CDC and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. . . . “The sad truth is that the institutions of science are in general flabby guardians of scientific integrity,” said Dan Greenburg in an op-ed piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Greenburg is author of Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism. The piece decried the rampant conflicts of interest within the scientific field that have gone uncontrolled by scientific journals, universities and the government. . . . The National Marine Fisheries Service’s plan to kill up to 85 sea lions along the Columbia River on the border between Oregon and Washington goes against “logic, science, and compassion,” says an editorial in the Portland Oregonian. The plan was hatched as a scheme to protect the Columbia’s struggling salmon populations, which comprise a major food source for the sea lions. Scientists with the Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the sea lions consume four percent of passing salmon as they migrate toward Bonneville Dam; quota increases planned for 2008 will allow fishermen to take up to 12 percent of the river's salmon. . . . The Nuclear Regulatory Commission took 33 years to respond to a petition filed by a coalition of citizens’ groups concerned about the human health and environmental impacts of a nuclear plant in Vermont. The agency rejected the complaint.
Cheers and Jeers
- Cheer to Marilynn Marchione of the Associated Press for disclosing that James Stein, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, consulted for Schering-Plough, manufacturer of the anti-cholesterol drugs Zetia and Vytorin, which were the subjects of the article.
- Jeer to the New York Post for publishing an opinion article by Robert Goldberg attacking former New York Times reporter Melody Peterson’s book, “Our Daily Meds,” which criticizes drug industry marketing practices, without disclosing that Goldberg is vice-president and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI), an organization that has received financial support from the pharmaceutical industry. The other co-founder of CMPI is Peter Pitts of Manning, Selvage & Lee, a public relations firm with numerous pharmaceutical industry clients.