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February 20, 2007

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 02/20/2007

CDC's Vaccine Panel is Unbalanced, Advocates Say

The Center for Disease Control's vaccine advisory committee meets in Atlanta on Thursday for an update on the rollout of Merck's cervical cancer vaccine, whose mass marketing campaign has drawn fire from some consumer groups for seeking vaccination for all pre-pubescent girls. Last June, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), two of whose members had financial ties to Merck, unanimously recommended that states seek mandatory vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) starting at age 11. At least 20 states have already adopted or are considering the measure, due in part to lobbying by Women in Government, a non-profit association of female legislators that also received funding from Merck. Though a major killer in the developing world, cervical cancer rates in the United States have fallen sharply in recent decades. The disease strikes about 11,150 women a year in the United States and kills about 3,670, according to the American Cancer Society.

Since the last meeting of ACIP, CDC has appointed four new members, including Kathleen Neuzil of the University of Washington, who has conducted clinical trials for MedImmune, which receives royalty payments from Merck for the HPV virus. John Treanor of the University of Rochester, who has conducted clinical trial research for Merck, continues to serve on the committee. The CDC is seeking nominations to replace five members who retire in June, including Treanor. Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center, claims the committee is imbalanced because it is dominated by pediatricians and government public health officials. "The existing members are focused on the elimination of disease, not the side effects and safety of vaccines," she said. "They need diverse representation from all parts of medicine, not just people with a psychological and emotional stake in mass vaccination."

Prescription Project Aims to Stem Medical Conflicts of Interest

The Prescription Project launched a campaign last week that called on academic medical centers, professional medical societies, and public and private payers to end conflicts of interest resulting from the $12 billion spent annually on pharmaceutical marketing. The Prescription Project is an initiative of the Boston-based health care advocacy group Community Catalyst and Columbia University's Institute of Medicine as a Profession. The project is funded by a $6 million, two-year grant from Washington, D.C.-based Pew Charitable Trusts.

Building on a series of reforms recommended last year in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (subscription required), the project plans to conduct and publicize research on conflicts of interest, advocate for policy reforms that will end such conflicts and promote prescription practices that are based on scientific evidence, according to a statement from the project. "The goal is to take a multi-pronged approach that will encourage academic medical centers, hospitals and individual physicians to adopt more stringent policies surrounding their interaction with pharmaceutical companies," said Prescription Project spokeswoman Diana Pisciotta.

Purdue Clears 'Bubble-Fusion' Researcher

Purdue University has cleared a nuclear engineering professor of fraud charges, determining that "the evidence does not support the allegations of research misconduct and that no further investigation of the allegations is warranted." Purdue professor Rusi Taleyarkhan's high-profile "bubble-fusion" research attracted attention because it portends a potentially unlimited energy source. So far, no other scientists have been able to duplicate his results.

EU Supports Open Access to Scientific Research

The executive arm of the European Union said last week that it plans to support open access to scientific research, during a meeting with publishers and supporters of free access, DowJones reported. The European Commission also said it would set aside some 85 million for storing European scientific data, research on digital preservation and improving access to scientific material. The EU plans to spend 54 billion on scientific research over the next seven years.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheers: In an article about a new study that found that a potent form of vitamin D may help men with advanced prostate cancer live longer, the Portland Oregonian reported that the Oregon Health & Science University and university scientist Tomasz Beer, who authored the study, licensed the patent for the drug to Novacea Inc. and have a financial stake in the company.
  • Cheers: A Chicago Tribune article on the debate over the dangers of cell phone use reported that many of the studies that have found no biological effects have been funded by cell phone manufacturers and the military. The article explicitly stated that radiation oncologist Roti Roti's research, which has found no health effects from cell phone use, was funded by Motorola.
  • Cheers and Jeers: The Baltimore Sun ran an op-ed last week by Paul Driessen that identified him as a "senior policy adviser for the Congress of Racial Equality and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, which have received funding from ExxonMobil for work on disease, agriculture, climate change and other issues." Unfortunately, the paper did not take this approach with another op-ed last week written by Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution, which has received nearly $300,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. The op-ed did not disclose several climate skeptics' ties to groups funded by the oil and gas industry, including S. Fred Singer, Richard S. Lindzen, Patrick J. Michaels and David R. Legates. Those skeptics also were named without disclosure last week in articles in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Napa Valley Register, Portland Oregonian and Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  • Jeers: A Jan. 30 Washington Post article by toxicologist and epidemiologist Gio Batta Gori refuting the dangers of secondhand smoke identified Gori as a "fellow of the Health Policy Center in Bethesda," but did not mention Gori's longstanding history of receiving money from tobacco companies.
  • Jeers: The New York Times did not disclose that a study advocating the use of a nasal flu vaccine that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (subscription required) was funded by FluMist manufacturer MedImmune.

Odds and Ends

In the latest escalation of its battle with Pfizer over consumer ads for Viagra, AIDS Healthcare Foundation has notified the drug company that its sales representatives will not be granted access to 13 healthcare centers in California and Florida. The move follows AHF's suit earlier this year charging Pfizer with irresponsible marketing tactics and advertising for Viagra. ... The Associated Press reported last week that a three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal "appeared skeptical" of arguments that California's stem cell agency is rife with conflicts of interest. ... The Food and Drug Administration is planning to close seven of its 13 laboratories nationwide, according to documents released last week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.