Corporate Bigwig to Chair Salt Reduction Panel
Jane Henney, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner turned University of Cincinnati health provost and corporate board room habitué, has been tapped to chair the new Institute of Medicine panel that will consider ways to reduce levels of sodium, a major contributor to hypertension, in the food supply. Henney earned over $508,000 in cash, stock and stock option awards in 2007 from serving on the boards of directors of AstraZeneca, a drug manufacturer that sells at least five branded anti-hypertension drugs with over $3.5 billion in sales in 2007; AmerisourceBergen, a drug distributor; and Cigna, a health insurer. She is still on all three boards, members of which are legally required to protect the fiduciary interests of stockholders.
The report from the Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake panel will identify ways-ranging from salt substitutes to regulatory options-to reduce salt consumption so that more Americans meet the government's dietary guidelines, which call for a daily intake of no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt. The current average daily consumption is 3,400 milligrams. Excessive dietary salt, mostly consumed through processed and restaurant foods, leads to hypertension and heart disease and causes an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 deaths per year. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, publisher of this newsletter, promotes policies to reduce dietary salt intake (and urged Congress to provide funding for the IOM study).
Others nominated to the 14-member panel who have ties to industry include Gary Beauchamp, director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, whose sponsors include Kraft, Mars, Phillip Morris, Nestle, General Mills, and Cargill; Christina DeWitt, a food chemistry professor at Oklahoma State University whose research has been sponsored by the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn.; and John Ruff, recently retired as senior vice president for scientific affairs and nutrition at Kraft Foods. Public comments on the proposed panel are due November 24th.
Senators Question FDA over PR Contract Bidding
Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and Tom Coburn (R-OK) asked the Food and Drug Administration to disclose all documents related to the contract awarded Qorvis Communications, a Washington DC-based public relations firm. The company received a $300,000 contract to "create and foster a lasting positive public image of the agency for the American public," the Washington Post reported last month. In a letter sent last week to FDA commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, the senators criticized the agency's "apparent disregard for proper and transparent procedure." The two Senators asked Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson to investigate.
Defamation Suit Seeks to Silence Critical Research
In what could be a precedent-setting legal case, Biopure, a Cambridge, MA-based firm that makes blood substitutes, has accused a National Institutes of Health researcher of defaming its product after he published a critical review in the Journal of the American Medical Association, according to Nature magazine (subscription required). Last April Charles Natanson and colleagues published a pooled analysis of five blood substitute products, including Biopure's Hemopure, which showed a 30 percent increase in mortality risk. According to the suit, Natanson then sent copies of the study to regulators in countries using or studying the products.
Besides accusing the researcher of methodological flaws, Biopure noted in its suit that Natanson failed to disclose his part-ownership in a patent application for a technology that claims to reduce the harmful side effects of blood substitute products. Natanson, who refused to comment on the suit, has since amended his conflict-of-interest disclosure and removed his name from the patent application. This suit "could have an enormous chilling effect on scientific inquiry," warned Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steve Nissen, whose controversial analyses of safety risks from the diabetes drug Avandia (rosiglitazone) and the painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib) resulted in billions of dollars in lost industry sales.
Grassley Urges NIH Crack Down on Undisclosed Conflicts
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) last week urged the National Institutes of Health to "fully exercise its authority to bring about disclosure of financial relationships between the drug industry and doctors working on federally sponsored research." Grassley, who is investigating government-funded researchers who fail to report industry support to their institutions, called institutional oversight lax. "Doctors aren't reporting their financial relationships, and the NIH isn't doing anything to hold grantees accountable for meeting their obligation to manage these potential conflicts," he said.
Odds and Ends
The Department of Health and Human Services ruled that University of Iowa researcher Jusan Yang falsified data in an unpublished manuscript and at two scientific meetings while conducting research supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.... The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has teamed up with Google to produce Google Flu Trends, which will track flu outbreaks.... The Environmental Protection Agency and UPS are in a joint venture to deploy hybrid engine technology developed through an EPA fuel-emissions lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan, CNN reported.... Responding to student pressure, Harvard Medical School will require faculty and students to disclose all financial ties to pharmaceutical companies when discussing drugs developed by those companies, the Harvard Crimson reported.... The Environmental Protection Agency's scientific advisers warned the agency to postpone setting a federal drinking water standard for perchlorate, a rocket fuel waste product, because the computer model underlying the decision may have been flawed, the Washington Post reported.
Cheers and Jeers
The Washington Post reported that President-elect Barack Obama plans to prohibit political appointees from working on regulations or issues related to their prior employers. Last week's issue of Integrity in Science Watch gave an incorrect citation. We regret the error.