Saturday, March 22, 2014

Behind the Scenes

A few years ago, Big Pharma’s push to have everyone taking cholesterol-lowering statins was starting to make news all over the place. See for example this article in the New York Times from 2008.

More recently, there has been more and more news emerging about the downside of ingesting these drugs. More and more warnings against starting on them. More research into the dangers. I was reading about this, often, in the ‘natural health’ magazines. But following the recent publication of two scholarly articles about the dangers of statins in the hallowed columns of the British Medical Journal, the pushback has started in earnest.

A report in the BBC today says that: “A leading researcher on cholesterol-lowering statin drugs has accused critics of misleading the public about the dangers of taking them.
Prof Sir Rory Collins said two critical articles published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) were flawed. But BMJ editor Dr Fiona Godlee said they were well researched. The drugs are already offered to about seven million people in the UK who have a one-in-five chance of heart disease in the next decade. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says the scope for offering this treatment should be widened to people with as low as a one in 10 or 10% risk to save more lives. Its recommendation follows a study which was overseen by Professor Collins' team at Oxford University. Prof Collins criticised articles in the BMJ by John Abramson from Harvard medical school, and Aseem Malhotra, a UK cardiologist, who both claimed statins caused harmful side effects and did not reduce mortality.”

Professor Rory Collins is the lead investigator of the Heart Protection Study - the largest trial in the world of cholesterol-lowering therapy. According to the official press release, the funding of £21 million for the study was provided by the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC), the British Heart Foundation (BHF), and the pharmaceutical companies Merck & Co. Inc. and Roche Vitamins Ltd.

The Medical Research Council website tells me that: “Alignment with industry remains at the heart of the MRC's strategy and delivery plans and there is continued commitment to develop and sustain close and productive collaborations with companies in the UK. …The MRC has promoted partnerships with more than 500 companies, ranging from the large pharmaceutical companies to small and medium sized healthcare companies. To date, collaborative efforts have resulted in the development of 518 products and interventions, with 23 of these currently in wide-scale adoption.”

Oh yes, the Heart Protection Study press release is at great pains to point out that “The study was, however, designed, conducted and analysed entirely independently of all funding sources by the Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU) of Oxford University.” Independently? One of the co-directors of the CTSU is Prof Sir Rory Collins. And the CTSU also gets some of its core funding from the Medical Research Council, (and some from Cancer Research UK, which also goes in for ‘corporate partnerships’)

And you still think Big Pharma isn’t pulling the strings?


Sarina McEwan-Bell said...

Big Pharma will always be pulling the strings. Money input via funding and partnerships will always be the pulling power for Pharma. Politics and money remain the biggest evil for society.

Elderwoman said...

I agree Sarina. Sad but true.