Thursday, April 21, 2005

What’s Up Doc—It’s All About the Money

If you’re involved in a conflict-of-interest dilemma, like taking money from those about whom you are supposed to be impartial, and you want help to keep doing it without questions of ethics or legality, who do you turn to for help? How about a law firm that is getting money from the same sources? They would have a pretty big incentive to do a good job for you. This is exactly what a group of doctors, who consult for the National Institute of Health, have done. The consulting work the doctors do for the NIH involves the development of new drugs for the marketplace. The pay is not high by medical standards. So in the past there have been several ways for these doctors to get permission from their employer, the NIH, to receive fees from the pharmaceutical companies. The additional fees from the drug companies would supposedly keep these doctors from leaving their posts due to insufficient compensation.

The amount of fees, and the cross-play between pharmaceutical giants trying to get a billion dollar drug into the market, and paying the doctor who is involved with that drug’s approval, has gone so far over the line of conflict of interest, that new measures are being set up to prevent such large monetary fees, and other perks, in the future. Therein lies the controversy, according to an article in today’s Los Angeles Times by David Willman.

There is a divestiture requirement, scheduled to take place in October, which says employees of NIH must sell any stock they have in biomedical companies. The Director of the NIH, Elias A. Zerhouni, is being asked to look into softening this requirement. The dissident doctors, known as the Assembly of Scientists, has hired a law firm at a favorable rate, Arent Fox, which also lobbies congress on these issues. This law firm takes fees from the same drug companies as the doctors, and their goal is to help the doctors maintain as much of their present fees and perks as possible.

Just so we are clear on how unethical this activity is, here is a quote from the article:

“The new conflict-of-interest rules stemmed from revelations that hundreds of NIH scientists took fees and stock from the industry totaling millions of dollars, and that most of the payments were hidden from public view. The payments raised questions about the scientists' impartiality in overseeing clinical trials or making public recommendations on the use of new drugs or other commercial treatments.”
How does this affect us personally? When I last had my dosage of mevacor, a cholesterol-lowering statin “wonder” drug, doubled, I asked my physician if there was any concern long-term regarding cancer or any bad side effects. He replied, and confirmed what I had been reading, that statins were great drugs capable of many positive medical results, even including preventing osteoporosis and other unrelated benefits. He said it seems that the current news on statins was the “more the merrier,” and even those not afflicted with elevated cholesterol should consider getting on the band wagon. Everyone should take one of the wonderful statin drugs.

This was at the same time that Dr. H. Bryan Brewer, Jr., was getting fees from the very drug companies he was working with on the statin drugs:

“…vascular-disease specialist Dr. H. Bryan Brewer Jr., accepted about $114,000 between 2001 and 2003 from four companies making or developing cholesterol medicines, according to NIH documents. As part of his official duties as a branch chief at the NIH, Brewer during that time helped draft national guidelines that urged more aggressive use of drugs to lower cholesterol. Brewer had entered his deals with the companies with the approval of NIH officials.”
The fear in removing the perks and fees is that these good doctors will leave their posts and less-qualified individuals will replace them.

The NIH also rubber stamps the vaccine program every year, despite my family’s personal experience with testimony at public hearings, along with hundreds each year, about the dangers of vaccines and the connection between vaccines and various autoimmune disorders including developmental delay and autism, among other diseases. The huge multi-billion dollar vaccine agenda allows for tremendous payments to all sorts of people involved with making sure it remains status quo.

I don’t offer any solution to this incredible corruption of our drug-approval and marketing system. I just know that awareness will bring attention, and ultimately a solution by experts. 15 years ago there was no awareness in the “air” about vaccines causing autism, and now it is a national issue because parents have become informed and knowledgeable. This story about the NIH doctors and their new law firm was on the front page today. That is the good news.

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