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Issues - Chemical Abuse - five-in-one jab

August 15, 2004

Five-in-one jab adviser linked to vaccine firm

A TOP government adviser faces accusations of a potential conflict of interest over his links with a leading pharmaceutical company that produces the five-in-one baby vaccine.
Professor Michael Langman heads the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), which has advised the government to introduce the new vaccine for all babies.

The multi-million-pound contract to supply the vaccine was given to the UK subsidiary of the only company that produces it: Aventis Pasteur MSD, part of the drug giant Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD).
Medical research at Langman’s department at Birmingham University is funded by MSD. Although he declared this in his register of interests, he was allowed to chair the JVCI’s discussions on the vaccine because he was not personally paid by the drugs company.
The five-in-one jab being introduced from later this year will protect babies from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and hib meningitis. Until now, polio and hib have been given separately.
Parents have already expressed concern about whether a multiple vaccine is safe after the scare over the three-in-one MMR injection. Critics say that Langman’s links to the vaccine manufacturer will do little to improve public confidence.
Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said: “The pharmaceutical industry has got itself into a position of funding so many experts that it would be impossible to put a top-class committee together without members who were receiving such funding.”
Langman this weekend declined to reveal how much money his department receives from MSD and refused to comment further. The Department of Health confirmed that Langman chaired the JCVI’s discussions on the vaccine but denied there was any wrong in this.
A health department spokeswoman said that only committee members with “direct personal interests”, such as shareholdings in vaccine manufacturers, were required to withdraw from discussions about whether or not to recommend their products. She confirmed that Langman’s department received funding from the company for research on colorectal cancer and chronic digestive disease. She also said he received funding from two other drug companies, but was unable to say how much the grants were worth.
“Professor Langman has not received any personal benefit from Aventis Pasteur MSD since becoming chairman of the JCVI,” she said. “He has declared all his interests in strict accordance with the code of practice.”
Twelve of the 19 members of the JCVI have declared commercial links with vaccine manufacturers. These range from direct shareholdings to consultancies and financial support of clinical work.
Last week Richard Stubbins, managing director of Aventis Pasteur MSD in Britain, said that although it is reasonable for pharmaceutical companies to fund academic research, he believed government advisers on drugs and vaccines should not be allowed personal shareholdings in the companies about which they advise.

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