Center for Science in the Public Interest

For Immediate Release: February 20, 2007

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

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.

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