Integrity in Science Watch|
Week of 08/04/2008
Anthrax Terror Suspect Held Vaccine Patents
Government biodefense researcher Bruce E. Ivins, the new lead suspect in the 2001 anthrax terror attacks, held three patents on anthrax vaccine technology and stood to benefit financially through federal procurement contracts, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday. Ivins, a 62-year-old microbiologist with 28 years of government service, committed suicide last week after federal investigators made him the prime suspect in the case. Ivins is listed as a co-owner of the government-invented anthrax vaccine later licensed to VaxGen, a Bay Area company awarded nearly $900 million in federal contracts under Project Bioshield. The contract was cancelled in 2006, the New York Times reported Sunday. Government researchers are usually limited to $150,000 per year in royalties when their inventions are licensed to the private sector.
The FBI investigation into the seven-year-old anthrax murders - five people died after being exposed to letters containing the deadly spores - has consistently focused on researchers at the U.S. Army's Ft. Detrick, Maryland facility, which has long been the home of the U.S. bioweapons and biodefense research programs. CNN reports that early in the investigation, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly identified former civilian anthrax researcher Steven Hatfill as a "person of interest" in the investigation. Hatfill, who also worked at the biodefense lab at Ft. Detrick, denied involvement and sued the Justice Department for violating his privacy by leaking his name to the media in connection with the investigation. The department settled in June with Hatfill, who is to receive a one-time payment of $2.8 million and $150,000 a year for life.
The U.S. has awarded nearly $50 billion in biodefense research contracts to major universities and defense facilities since the 2001 anthrax attacks. Infectious disease researchers have criticized the program for draining talent and resources from research into infectious diseases like tuberculosis and leishmaniasis that are endemic in the developing world. In 2005 more than 750 scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners, sent a letter to the National Institutes of Health protesting the way the anti-bioterror program was skewing infectious disease research.
Senators Want Full Global Warming Paper Released
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is demanding that the White House release the Environmental Protection Agency's final 40-page 'endangerment finding' analyzing the threat to human health posed by greenhouse gas emissions. A draft of the paper sent to the White House last December found that "combined atmospheric concentrations of the six greenhouse gases are reasonably anticipated to endanger public welfare." The White House has refused to acknowledge the finding. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by Boxer, reviewed the finding and posted excerpts on its website, but Senate Republicans prevented a vote to subpoena the document in its entirety.
Meanwhile, EPA administrator Stephen Johnson has refused a request from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to testify on global warming. Leahy's Judiciary Committee is investigating the "risks of global warming, and whether EPA?s decision with respect to California's application for a waiver from the Clean Air Act was made in accordance with the technical and legal conclusions of EPA?s own staff, or was the result of improper White House interference." Leahy has also asked the EPA's Inspector General to "investigate the President' purported claims of executive privilege over documents and testimony related to the public health threats of global warming, and possible White House interference with EPA decision-making."
EPA Advisers Balk at Plans to Ease Asbestos Regs. . .
A panel of scientific advisers at the EPA has denounced the Bush Administration's effort to change the way the EPA measures the cancer-causing potential of asbestos. The agency asked the 20 experts on its Scientific Advisory Board's (SAB) asbestos panel to evaluate assessments of the toxicity of various types of asbestos and gave the SAB panel industry-funded studies to review. While the meeting notes will not be made available for up to three months, according to Vivian Turner, the Designated Field Officer and SAB staff member, several public comments are on the EPA website. Franklin E. Mirer, a professor of Environmental and Occupational Health in the Hunter College Urban Public Health Program at City University of New York, said that "the recommendations of the NAS Risk Assessment Committee for presenting the full range of risk assessment results have been ignored." David Egilman of Brown University told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that "this is another example of how this administration all too often bows to corporate pressure and facilitates regulations that fail to protect the health of both the workers and the public."
. . . And New Lead Standard
Rogene Henderson, chair of the EPA's Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC), has condemned the agency's proposed lead standard. In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, Henderson said the EPA has proposed lowering the level of allowable lead in the air from 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter to a range of 0.1 to 0.3 micrograms per cubic meter, but that it could range up to 0.5 micrograms per cubic meter in some cases. The proposal was significantly higher than the 0.02 micrograms per cubic meter (with a maximum level of 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter) proposed by CASAC as being feasible.
In a 35-page protest letter, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Science in the Public Interest said the "EPA must follow the advice of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee" or "explain its reasons for departing from CASAC's advice." Public comment has been extended to today.
Odds and Ends
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) is pressuring the National Institutes of Health to cut grants to academic scientists who have not disclosed industry ties to their respective colleges and universities. . . . The University of Tokyo's Institute of Medical Science is planning to overhaul efforts to educate researchers on ethics rules and tighten internal review and compliance standards. . . . After two previous investigations over scientific misconduct related to "cold fusion" Purdue University Nuclear Engineering Professor Rusi Taleyarkhan has been cited for two cases of misconduct. Both cases center on efforts to make experiments carried out by members of his lab appear as independent verification of his previous work. . . . According to the Wall Street Journal, 275 journalists at the Unity convention in Chicago attended a lunch n' learn event on Type 2 diabetes that was sponsored by the health care company Novo Nordisk.
Cheers and Jeers
* Jeer to Health Affairs for failing to disclose to readers that Alan J. Gelenberg, the psychiatrist who reviewed the book, Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial (Algonquin Books, June 2008) by Alison Bass, is a long-time friend and colleague of Martin Keller, the chief of psychiatry at Brown University and a major figure in the book. Gelenberg and Keller have co-authored at least 20 papers on the treatment of depression, according to Medline.
* Jeer to Melinda Beck of the Wall Street Journal for failing to disclose that the Vitamin D Council receives grants from vitamin D manufacturer Biotech Pharmacal. In her July 15 article "Defending Against Disease -- With Vitamin D," Beck quotes Vitamin D Council executive director John Cannell.
* Jeer to C. Richard Conti, editor-in-chief of Clinical Cardiology and professor of medicine at the University of Florida Health Science Center, for failing to disclose in a recent two part editorial (here and here ) that he has received compensation as a member of the Cardiovascular Therapeutics Speaker's Bureau. Conti's editorial favorably describe Ranolazine, a drug used to treat chronic angina and manufactured by CV Therapeutics.
* Jeer to Renita Jablonski of Marketplace on American Public Media/NPR for its July 24 segment on raising the minimum wage where she quoted Rick Berman of the "Employment Policies Institute" without telling listeners that Berman's group is funded by chain restaurant operators, who have a vested interest in keeping entry-level wages as low as possible.
The July 21, 2008 issue of Integrity In Science Watch included an incorrect link to an article in Pediatrics on lipid disorders in children. The correct link for the July 1st story is here.
The July 21, 2008 Integrity in Science Watch gave an incorrect title for the Journal of Clinical Lipidology. We regret the errors.