Big Pharma: More conflicts of interest

The relationship between Big Pharma and the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) should be a cause for concern

by David Atherton on 17 June 2013 15:50

I hope you read Simon Miller’s excellent piece on electronic cigarettes on Saturday. He wrote in detail about how the government-run Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) wants to regulate e-cigs out of existence, by putting them through stringent tests.

Many e-cig distributors are mainly small-to-medium-sized companies who just do not have the capital or resources to go through that process. For the last ten years, while corporate UK has been battling over cigarettes versus patches, the “vapers”, as they are known, have kindled a quiet revolution of safe smoking among 1.3 million aficionados in the UK. The only adverse reaction over ten years, and among millions of users, has been a battery exploding, and the person had modified it.

I have written before about nicotine-producing pharmaceutical companies that are lobbying the EU with €40-€90 million of funds every year in an attempt to exclude competition such as e-cigs and snus. Unsurprisingly, the MHRA have cited the EU Tobacco Directive as one of its influences. And have a stab in the dark as to where its funding comes from? Yes, Big Pharma.

As highlighted by Angela Harbutt at the Free Society, the chairman of MHRA’s nicotine containing products ad hoc group is Professor Ian VD Weller who “oversees a large programme of research for….Pfizer, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Sharp and Dohme, Abbott, Bristol Myers-Squibb.”

Another member of the group, Professor Martin Jarvis, enjoys consultancy fees from Pfizer for making up the numbers on its Member Varenicline Worldwide Scientific Advisory Board as well as its European Policy Advisory Board.

In fact, five out of the eleven members of the group have such links and to rub noses in it, MHRA is itself funded by Big Pharma:

“There was, however, some surprise in relation to the fact that the MHRA is part funded by the pharmaceutical companies – a number of respondents clearly believed that it should be an independent body or solely funded by government.”

In 2003 the MHRA was formed by the merger of the Medicines Control Agency (MCA) and the Medical Devices Agency. The National Audit Office was moved to say, “The Agency is also unusual in having a stated objective to facilitate the development of the UK pharmaceutical industry." 

While having our best interests at heart, Big Pharma and the EU maybe acting illegally; the EU Committee on Legal Affairs has taken the Tobacco Directive apart limb from limb.

In fact, former Chair of the MHRA Alasdair Breckenridge said in 2005: “From November 2005, European regulations will require that staff have no financial or other interests that could affect their impartiality."

There’s little need for any further comment.

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