ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

30 January 2002

BIOTECH FIRMS BYPASS JOURNALS TO MAKE NEWS / SOME GENETICS RESEARCHERS DON'T SHARE / STEM CELL PANEL HAS VESTED INTEREST IN RESEARCH

Item 1 will resonate particularly with those who remember how Pusztai was hounded from pillar to post for referring briefly to results of his then unpublished research on GM potatoes on UK TV. But now that it is being recognised that the biotech industry is breaking the rules big-time for its own financial advantage where is the hand ringing from the Royal Society, the SIRC etc? It's left to the editor of Nature to raise questions - the same editor who was damned by many for publishing John Losey's peer-reviewed feeding study on the impact on monarch larvae of Bt corn, just as the editor of the Lancet was damned for finally publishing Pusztai's peer reviewed study.

Conclusion: if it boosts the share price, no problem - if it hammers it, we'll hammer you!

Item 2 reports how some scientists are now refusing to share data with colleagues in order "to protect their ability to market their research commercially".

Item 3 - fascinating to see junkscience's Milloy pointing the finger on the issue of embryo cloning in a way he never would on most other aspects of biotechnology where similar conflict of interest concerns usually apply.

1. BIOTECH FIRMS BYPASS JOURNALS TO MAKE NEWS
2. Some Genetics Researchers Don't Share
3. Stem Cell Panel Has Vested Interest in Research

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1. Biotech firms bypass journals to make news

BY GAUTAM NAIK
WALL STREET JOURNAL January 28, 2002, Monday

Biotechnology companies are breaking with the tradition under which scientific breakthroughs were taken seriously only if they first appeared in a peer- reviewed journal; in the race for attention, some biotech firms are rushing to release information via news releases or in esoteric publications with less stringent criteria; as a result, investors and the public may be led to believe certain claims that could later prove to be exaggerated; Philip Campbell, editor of the journal Nature, warns of the potential damage to public trust

***

2. Some Genetics Researchers Don't Share

By TAMMY WEBBER
Associated Press Writer, Tuesday January 22

CHICAGO (AP) - The race to find new uses for genetic discoveries is hindering the usual exchange of information among university researchers, according to a study.

A majority of geneticists say they increasingly are being denied access to colleagues' data, a practice many say may be slowing progress in genetics research.

The reasons given for withholding information included the cost and effort of sharing and a desire to protect a researcher's or student's ability to publish his or her findings, according to the study in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Some scientists also do not share because they are trying to protect their ability to market their research commercially, said lead author Eric Campbell, who teaches health-care policy at Harvard Medical School and the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"Clearly genetics is one area that is thought to be the fertile field for the next generation of drugs and medical applications," Campbell said.

Withholding data may hinder scientists' ability to replicate the results of published studies or pursue their own research, and hurt the education of new scientists, experts said.

The survey of 1,240 geneticists found that 47 percent said at least one request for data on published research had been denied in the preceding three years, while 12 percent said they had denied a request for data on published results during that time.

Seventy-three percent believed withholding slowed the rate of progress in their field, and 28 percent reported being unable to confirm published results because authors would not share data.

"There's a real question there with what that means,'' Campbell said. "It's a quickly moving field, and it may move quickly because results are limited to a small group of scientists working collaboratively and pushing the field.

"Or it may be the fastest-moving fields are ones that are totally open and people share. It may be that competition among different groups makes research go faster."

A certain amount of withholding by industry is necessary for patents and other commercial applications, Campbell and other experts said. But sharing is imperative - and expected - once an academic publishes findings, they said.

David Ledbetter, head of human genetics at the University of Chicago, said he does not believe research has been hurt by the withholding. But he said there must be clear distinctions between industry and academic behavior.

"If you're working with industry, follow industry standards," said Ledbetter, who does research on the genetics of mental retardation and was not involved in the study.

"But you have to accept the fact that you can't also behave like an academic and publish things, get academic credit, then not make the information available."

***

3. Stem Cell Panel Has Vested Interest in Research

Friday, January 25, 2002
By Steven Milloy
Fox News

Enron and Arthur Andersen have nothing over the National Academy of Sciences when it comes to deceiving the public.

An NAS panel opined last week that human reproductive cloning should be banned, but that cloning for medical research purposes, euphemistically termed "creation of embryonic stems cells by nuclear transplantation", should be allowed.

The NAS' recommendations were trumpeted by major media such as The Washington Post and The New York Times in front-page stories coupled with sycophantic editorials.

But these illustrious media outlets failed to report information that would have exposed the NAS' recommendations as the best pre-determined conclusions taxpayer money can buy. Giving a free pass to skullduggery that could rival Enron's, the media never mentioned that the scientists on the panel were known proponents of stem cell study with vested financial and/or professional interest in the continued funding of that research.

Taxpayer-funded medical research is big business. Billions of dollars pour into the National Institutes of Health every year; entrepreneurial researchers often then turn the fruits of this taxpayer-funded research into lucrative private businesses.

Last August, President Bush threatened growth prospects for an emerging sector of this business.

Weighing the morality of human embryo destruction against the potential of medical research, the president limited the flow of taxpayer dollars to embryonic stem cell research - hyped as possibly leading to cures for many diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's.

The president's action disappointed stem cell researchers who so far have relied on monies raised in the capital markets. This funding is insufficient and may eventually disappear as investors realize that financial returns from stem cell research might be decades away if they come at all.

Enter Bruce Alberts, the Wizard of Oz-like president of the NAS.

The politically savvy Alberts fancies that taxpayer spigots can be opened by pressuring Bush. What better way to do this than through widely publicized recommendations from the NAS, an elite organization whose elected members represent the cream of the crop of U.S. scientists?

On his own initiative, Alberts put together a special panel, stacked with embryonic stem cell research proponents and researchers already on the taxpayer dole.

Alberts deserves an "Ig Nobel" Prize for picking Stanford University's Irving Weissman as panel chairman.

Weissman has received 131 research grants courtesy of taxpayers, including 22 for stem cell research. The grants pale in comparison to the real fruits of his research.

Weissman co-founded Systemix Inc., a 1990s stem cell research company. Systemix sold for $468 million, netting Weissman a cool $20 million even though the company failed to deliver on expected cancer and AIDS therapies. Weissman then co-founded StemCells Inc., currently with a market value of about $80 million.

Taxpayers and stem cells have been very good to Irving.

Weissman isn't the only panel member predisposed to taxpayer-funded research and its exploitation.

The 11 members of the NAS panel have garnered 596 grants from taxpayers altogether. Three other panel members are officers in professional societies affiliated with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology a group lobbying for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Breast-feeding off taxpayers is as natural to the NAS panel members as breathing.

But there's more.

Panel member David Galas (8 grants) has interests in two biotech companies, Chiroscience R&D Inc. and Blue Heron Biotechnology Co. Panel member Gerald Rubin (71 grants) co-founded Exelixis Inc., a genomic research company worth $694 million. Even the NAS member overseeing the panel's work, Maxine Singer, is a director of Perlegen Sciences Inc., a genomics company that just raised $100 million.

Was there any chance this panel would recommend against federal funding of embryonic stem cell research? Not if Alberts could help it.

Were these conflicts fully and frankly disclosed by the NAS? No.

There are passing mentions on the NAS Web site of Weissman's links with Systemix and StemCells and Galas' link with Chiroscience. But panel members' grant histories, other corporate links and financial information, and FASEB connections were omitted. And, of course, no mention of these conflicts appeared in media coverage.

Last summer, when the panel was formed, the National Journal asked about omitted disclosures from the NAS Web site. NAS Executive Officer E. William Colglazier offered an Enron-ish explanation: "It is up to our discretion to decide what we put in the bios," he said.

Alberts stated at a press conference that the NAS undertook the report "because we believe the nation needs a clear, unbiased scientific examination of proposals for human reproductive cloning." He then introduced Weissman merely as a "professor of cancer biology, pathology and developmental biology at Stanford University School of Medicine."

I guess "taxpayer-made stem cell tycoon" would have made the audience howl with laughter.
 

Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

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