Two stories summarize everything that’s wrong with corporate science, exposing the corruption at the heart of the most profitable business on earth.
First, consider this graphic, accompanying a fascinating Der Speigel interview of a British physician who has done more than anyone else to expose the infection that’s driving up drug prices and filling pharmacies with patent medicines of little or no value:
And a brief excerpt from the interview itself, via Der Spiegel:
Semi-retired British cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst — described in 2012 by the British Medical Journal as a “successful and cheerful whistleblower” — began his crusade against dishonesty in medical research in 1986. In the course of the 66-year-old’s career, he conducted studies for pharmaceutical and medical devices companies, and unlike many of his colleagues, never hesitated to publish negative results. He’s been the subject of multiple cases of legal action and risked bankruptcy and his reputation to expose misconduct in the pharmaceutical industry. Today he advises and supports other whistleblowers with the organization “Patients First.”
He sat down with SPIEGEL to discuss mistruths and fraud in medical research and why he decided to challenge the pharmaceutical industry.
SPIEGEL: In your early years as a researcher, a pharmaceutical company offered you a bribe equivalent to two years of your salary: They wanted to prevent you from publishing negative study results. Were you disappointed that you weren’t worth more?
Peter Wilmshurst: (laughs) I was just a bit surprised to be offered any money, really. I was a very junior researcher and doctor, only 33 years old, so I didn’t know that sort of thing happened. I didn’t know that you could be offered money to conceal data.
SPIEGEL: How exactly did they offer it to you? They probably didn’t say: “Here’s a bribe for you.”
Wilmshurst: No, of course not! Initially we were talking about the results that I’d obtained: That the drug that I had been testing for them did not work and had dangerous side effects. Then the company representatives asked me to leave some of the patients out of the data analysis. Without these patients, the study result would have been positive. When I said I couldn’t do that, they asked me not to publish the data. And to compensate me for the work I had done in vain, they said, they would offer me this amount of money.
SPIEGEL: What went through your head at that moment?
Wilmshurst: Well, I thought it was wrong. If you’ve got the data, you have got to publish it. That’s the imperative. I mean, that’s one of the big issues in pharmaceutical research, that the data we’re basing our treatments on are actually only part of the data, because industry conceals the unfavorable bits.
And when you can’t buy the research, buy the university
Hell, you can even buy one of the most prestigious universities on earth — or try to, until some nosy reporters ask the wrong questions.
The source of the funds in question is a foundation created and owned by Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, a German pharmaceutical company controlling 146 affiliates.
In a surprise move, the president of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany. . .announced plans to overhaul controversial contracts governing the use of a €150 million donation from a philanthropic foundation. Critics have charged that the agreement gives the donor, the Boehringer Ingelheim Foundation in Mainz, too much control over publishing decisions and faculty appointments at the school’s Institute of Molecular Biology, which the foundation helped create in 2009.
The move, which could eventually influence similar funding arrangements at other German universities, only partly satisfies critics. They are pushing for greater transparency from universities and donors.
In a 4 July meeting with journalists, university President Georg Krausch conceded that contract provisions give the foundation the authority to veto faculty appointments made by the university, but said that was not the intent of the agreement, and that the foundation had never blocked an appointment. And he said language requiring the university to get prepublication consent from the foundation for press releases and “publications,” which could include research papers, was an “error.” The intent of such language, he said, was to ensure that research products were of good quality, not to give the funder control. Still, Krausch admitted that the provisions created a perception that the university was not free to act independently. “Throughout all these issues … you can interpret it as quality assurance or exercise of influence,” he said.
Krausch said the university will now work with foundation officials to revise the problematic language.
It’s enough to give you a headache. . .
And we’re sure they have just the prescription you need.
If you can afford it.