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Daily Express Micro Edition August 6, 2000

This item appears in the Daily Express in the UK (online edition) from Sept 6th. The story clearly illustrates the conflict of interest involving the regulatory agency in the UK responsible for approving drugs when it's members have investments in or are being compensated by the very drug companies in question.


 

corporations. The people in the meetings are some of the leading academics and doctors of their generation, drawn from universities, hospitals and medical colleges across the country.

They advise the MCA on whether prescription, over-the-counter,
homeopathic and even veterinary drugs are safe and effective.
The MCA has the power to give or revoke a drug's licence.

Medicines which have taken years of expensive research to
produce can be banned or withdrawn from sale if the committees
consider there is cause for concern.

The pharmaceutical companies know this only too well and
therefore do their best to cosy up to members of powerful groups
such as the Committee on Safety of Medicines and the Medicines
Commission.

Tom Moore, a former senior executive for AstraZeneca, told the
Sunday Express that the drug companies go out of their way to
build strong links. He said: "Their objective is to get as close as
possible. They are an extremely powerful lobby group because
they have unlimited resources."

The companies provide trips abroad to conferences, large
research grants which can keep a university department
employed for years, and consultancies that can boost an
academic's humble income.

Charles Medawar, of Social Audit, the consumer group which is
campaigning to improve the MCA, believes it is "unsatisfactory"
that so many members are financially dependent on the industry.

HE SAID: "This illustrates our serious concern about how drugs
are granted approval in this country. There is a general culture of
members being too close to the industry and wanting to support
it."

The extent of those links is widespread. Two thirds of the 248
experts sitting on the Medicines Commission have financial ties to
the pharmaceutical industry.

And Sunday Express research shows that 42 members of the
committees are even more closely linked to the companies -
because they have invested in their shares.

The size of the holdings has been kept confidential until now
because the members are not required to disclose on the MCA's
register of interest just how many shares they own.

But our research - based on the drug companies' own share
registers - found that several experts have chose to invest
substantial amounts.

Dr Michael Denham, a consultant in geriatric medicine at Harrow,
Middlesex, and a member of the Committee on Safety of
Medicines External Advisory Panel, owns £115,000 worth of
shares in SmithKline Beecham.

Dr Denham was on holiday last week but left a message to say
that his work for the CSM had been limited to "only a few cases".

His colleague on the CSM advisory panel, Dr Richard Logan, has
up to £30,000 shares in AstraZeneca, SmithKline Beecham and
Glaxo Welcome. He said he made the investments because he
knows and understands the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr Logan's role on the committee involves examining cases where
a drug might have to be withdrawn from the market for safety
reasons. He said: "I would hope that I would be able to examine
that data without thinking, 'I've got a few thousands of pounds
of shares - what would it do to my shareholding?' "I think one
could make a reasonable judgment without being influenced. In all
honesty, if I knew it (a drug) was about to be taken off the
market, I would probably sell my holding as well."

David Ganderton, a retired Exeter University professor, used to
work for AstraZeneca and now retains shares in the company
which are currently worth £91,000. He has now resigned from the
CSM panel and said he does not recall ever facing a conflict of
interest during his nine years as an adviser.

Other members of the committees with substantial holdings
include: Dr Richard Auty, a former Astra-Zeneca executive who
has shares in that company worth £110,000; Dr Brian Evans, a
consultant whose Glaxo Wellcome holding is worth £28,000; and
Dr Colin Forfar, a cardiologist at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford,
who has £22,000 worth of Glaxo Wellcome shares.

Each member is expected to declare their interest at the
beginning of committee meetings. A spokeswoman for the MCA
said that the nature of the interest is considered and then "a
decision is made whether they can stay for the discussion".

A member with an interest can be allowed to stay at a meeting at
the discretion of the chairman.

The spokeswoman said: "In an ideal world, they would not have
any shares. But we are utilising their experience in the interests
of public health and you have to expect that people will behave
in a professional manner."

But health campaigners are frustrated that it is very difficult to
find out whether any of the experts are involved in discussions on
products that they have an interest in.

The public is not allowed to know about such discussions, as the
Medicines Act requires that the meetings are secret.

Professor Alan Li Wan Po, a former member of a CSM
sub-committee, is calling for greater openness within the Medical
Control Agency He would also like to see a tightening of the rules
on interests.

The professor said: "I got rid of my shares when I joined the
committee because I felt it was a potential conflict of interest. I
think others should do the same."

Companies such as Glaxo Wellcome have extensive dealings with
the MCA. Last year four of the company's drugs were licensed in
the UK.

According to the MCA's register, Glaxo Wellcome last year paid
consultancies, fees or research grants to 33 members of the
committees or their departments.

SmithKline Beecham - which last year welcomed the Committee
on Safety of Medicine's positive endorsement of its controversial
MMR vaccine - had financial links with 27 members.

The third major player in the industry, AstraZeneca, had ties with
45 members.

But there is no alternative to the present system, claims Ben
Hayes, of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries. He
said: "The people who sit on these panels are experts in highly
specialised fields.

"In this country there are relatively few of such people and as a
result they are in high demand both by industry and the
Government."
© Express Newspapers, 2000

 

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