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Drug safety Doctors hold shares in drug firms
A Report in The Times (4/4/99) by Lois Rogers and Mark Macaskill lends further weight to the conspiracy theories concerning Doctors, Scientists, the Pharmaceutical Industry and Government.
Senior doctors who advise the government on whether new drugs should be approved for use in Britain have investments worth tens of thousands of pounds in the companies manufacturing them, a Sunday Times investigation has revealed.
Many of the doctors have direct shareholdings in the drug companies. One, who sits on the committee that advises the government on drugs to be used in specific treatments, has shares worth £130,000 in two of Britain's biggest drug companies.
Others receive substantial perks such as research and equipment grants, free air travel to conferences and money to cover salaries of extra research staff. The extent of the links raises questions about the objectivity of some members of the Standing Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC), and the Committee on Safety of Medicines (CSM). They are drawn from medical royal colleges, universities and hospitals across the country to give independent advice on which treatments should be licensed for use in Britain.
David Hinchliffe, Labour chair of the Commons health committee, said he would investigate the apparent conflict of interest.
Professor Robert Kendell, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and a member of SMAC, did not believe potential profits from drug sales to the National Health Service would influence the value of his £130,000 holding in SmithKline Beecham and Glaxo Wellcome. Kendell, who has declared his interests, said: "Any profits would be utterly trivial, probably only a couple of quid." !
Committee members are supposed to declare such interests in a register which is, in theory, a public document. But it was only made available to The Sunday Times by the Department of Health after several requests and is not easily accessible to the public.
At least one committee member has, however, failed to make any declaration at all. Professor Roderick MacSween, president of the Royal College of Pathologists and a SMAC member, admitted that he might have been "neglectful" in not revealing his drug company shares worth £15,000.
Others reacted angrily to questions about their financial interests. Brian Evans, a senior pharmacist on the CSM who has declared his shareholdings in Scotia, Glaxo, Boots and SmithKline Beecham, refused to discuss the potential conflict of interest. "I have done everything by the book and I don't see that it is anyone else's business," he said. !
Members are not obliged to disclose shares held by their spouses or other close family members. Sheila Willatts, a consultant anaesthetist in Bristol and a SMAC member, admitted that her husband had shares in Glaxo but said: "I haven't declared them on the register of interests because they are not mine."
It is well known among doctors and civil servants at the Department of Health that the committee members are targeted by drug companies.
Some committee members believe that seeking funds from drug companies is ethically acceptable if the money is used to boost their research and so encourage medical advances. members who have drug company links are also adamant that such connections in no way influence their CSM and SMAC decisions.
"Any specialist in an area invariably has research collaborations with companies; you just can't avoid it," said Gordon Duff, professor of molecular medicine at Sheffield University. He also sits on the CSM and has declared his interests in eight pharmaceutical companies.
Such links are, however, being increasingly questioned within the medical profession. Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, called for the committees to be governed by much stricter regulations of the kind that cover MPs.
The CSM's 34 members are paid £160 plus expenses to prepare for and attend the fortnightly meetings in London. SMAC's 33 members are not paid. Last week, however, the health department warned members of both committees not to speak to the media about their drug company links. In an effort to deflect accusations that the committees are exclusive cliques and that the doctors may be too closely involved with the drug companies, in January it appointed two lay members to the CSM.
However, one of them has now declared she has shareholdings in three drugs companies.
Max Newton, Uncaged Campaigns 07.04.99
Herbal remedies and vitamin supplements are under attack from multinational drug companies. All around the world pressure is being brought to bare by the drug giants onto government agencies to regulate out of existence non-pharmaceutical 'alternative' health products and remedies.
In Britain the situation is reaching crisis-point, and hardly anyone seems to know anything about it. This is hardly surprising given that the Government has been formulating proposals in secret, with a short and negligibly publicised public consultation period.
The Government is about to grant the Medicines Control Agency (MCA) powers that are more sweeping than any other authority in the land. The MCA is seeking to put into practice consultation letter MLX 249, under which the agency would have the right to decide itself, with no consultation or right of appeal, whether a vitamin, a herbal product or an oil is medicinal in nature and thus in need of an extremely costly license.
The only criteria the MCA needs are:
As everything you eat or drink has an effect on your body, this covers anything and everything! So in theory even glucose, coffee and brandy could be classified as medicinal.
If your product is deemed to fit one of these criteria, you will have to prove the product works and apply for a license which could cost upto £100,000 to obtain for a single-ingredient product, and £2million for a multi-ingredient one. The drug companies think that this represents a 'level playing field' for both themselves and 'alternative' remedies, but companies producing herbal remedies etc tend not to be multinational corporate monsters with that sort of money to spare for one product let alone for every product that they make.
The effect of the ruling would be to wipe most products (enjoyed by many who object to contaminating their bodies with dubious chemical cocktails) off the shelves of health stores, save for the few who have already bought licenses.
Angela Roberts, founder of Uncaged Campaigns, condemned the proposals:
Only the MCA will be allowed to decide if a product is 'medicinal'. The product must meet the demands of what some have termed a Nuremberg Trial' commission consisting of one chairperson and two ad-hoc members. The commission presumes guilt unless the manufacturer can prove 'innocence' - in this case effectiveness. As Penny Viner of the Health Food Manufacturers Association points out:
The MCA is a Government appointed Quango, funded by the taxpayer. As such they appear worryingly undemocratic, and can refuse to answer any questions over the phone by hiding behind their protected status. Their phone number is 0171 273 0392 (they are only listed under the name of their supervising Dept)
This is a global attack by the pharmaceutical industry. In Canada and the USA supplements have been withdrawn following pressure from multinational drug companies. A German proposal calls for 1) no dietary supplements to be sold for preventative or therapeutic use, 2) dosage limits set by the EU commission, and 3) preventing nations from setting up their own standards. These proposals for the EU are being pushed by three german companies: Hoechst, Bayer and BASF - who were formed when IG Farben was disbanded after the Nuremburg War Trials due to their role in manufacturing the poison gas used in the Nazi concentration camps.
According to Christopher Whitehouse of Consumers for Health Choice:
Max Newton, Uncaged Campaigns 07.04.99
There were mixed signals emanating from Brussels last week concerning a EU ban on animal testing for cosmetics.
The ban on for such tests on finished products was originally planned for 1998. However, it was delayed due to the inability of those concerned to agree upon alternatives that would 'guarantee consumer safety'. The EU ban is now due to come into effect from 1st July 2000.
However, once again this is subject to a 'review of it's feasibility by the European Commission' before the end of this year.The Commission, trotting out the line given by animal-testing cosmetics giants themselves said 'We want to be as restrictive as possible on animal testing. But if other methods are not available we cannot replace animal testing with testing on humans.' David Clark, chair of Colipa's committee on alternatives to animal testing, said 'To guarantee safety without animal experiments on the final products is a major milestone, but we can't yet guarantee consumer safety without some animal tests.'
This is blatantly untrue! Hundreds of companies make like-for-like cosmetic products that have not been tested on animals. The most obvious example in the UK is the Body Shop, all of whose products are cruelty-free and none of which have caused illness or harm that would have been eliminated if animals had been used in their development. If the Body Shop and similar companies can work (and indeed thrive) in the cosmetic industry without resorting to cruel and universally abhorred animal tests then surely the rest of the industry should be made to follow suit. Instead, it appears that the Colipa's 'cost-benefit' analysis still values the 'benefit' to the industry's ability to make more vast profits from new lines in frivolity above the lives of tens of 30, 000 animals a year! Furthermore, the British Government recently stated that it was both morally unacceptable and unnecessary to continue to conduct such tests on 'vanity products,' and brought an end to it in this country.
Meanwhile, it was reported that Europe's cosmetics manufacturers are to stop using animals in tests on their finished products and in most tests on ingredients (note: only most) in a bid to head off a ban. Details are uncertain, if they want to stop using animals voluntarily, why not simply agree to a legal and enforceable ban....? The Commission says that the decision to end much of the animal testing will make it easier for support to be won for a second postponement.
The waters are now further muddied by the resignation in March of all of the European Commissioners - for wastefulness and incompetance, now there's a thing...!
Write to your MEP asking her/him to actively support calls for a ban on the use of primates in laboratory animals. The European Elections are fast approaching - vote for a candidate who will pledge to support a ban (e.g. the Green Party).
Max Newton 07/04/99