Swine flu taskforce's links to vaccine giant: More than
half the experts fighting the 'pandemic' have ties to drug firms
Fiona Macrae and
Last updated at 12:38 PM on 14th January 2010
GSK is one of the companies that makes swine flu vaccine
More than half the scientists on the swine flu taskforce advising the Government
have ties to drug companies.
Eleven of the 20 members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE)
have done work for the pharmaceutical industry or are linked to it through their
Many have declared interests in GlaxoSmithKline, the vaccine maker expected to
be the biggest beneficiary of the pandemic.
The disclosure of the register of interests comes just days after a health
expert branded the swine flu outbreak a 'false pandemic' driven by the drug
companies which stood to profit.
The Government is now trying to offload up to £1billion worth of unwanted swine
Last July, the Department of Health warned of up 65,000 deaths, with 350 a day
at the pandemic's peak. But the death toll now stands at just 251.
SAGE was created to give Ministers recommendations on how to control and treat
Official documents show some members are linked to vaccine manufacturer Baxter
and to Roche, which makes Tamiflu.
GSK, Baxter and Roche stand to make up to £1.5billion between them from
Government contracts related to swine flu.
The scientists declared the interests to the Department of Health.
They were not obliged to declare the amounts they earned but they are thought to
range from around £500 for a lecture or presentation to more than £100,000 for a
directorship of GSK.
Some will simply be heads of university research departments which received
funding from companies.
Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb said last night: 'While there is no evidence that
experts acted improperly, the sheer scale of the pharmaceutical industry's
influence is a cause for concern and needs to be looked at.'
However, some researchers said industry experience could only add to the
scientists' knowledge, enabling them to provide the best and the most up-to-date
Leading flu expert Professor John Oxford said it was right to have people with
different types of experience.
He said: 'If you are giving advice about vaccines or anti-viral drugs, you can't
sit in your ivory tower and think you know everything about it.'
One of the biggest earners on SAGE is the former rector of Imperial College,
London, Professor Sir Roy Anderson. He is a non-executive director of GSK which
also makes Relenza, the Tamiflu alternative for pregnant women.
GSK strongly denied any conflict of interest.
It said Sir Roy was asked to rejoin SAGE, which he had left to join GSK, because
of his expertise.
The company said: 'He has not attended any meetings related to purchase of drugs
or vaccine for either the government or GSK.'
Dr Stephen Inglis of the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control
has interests in more than 40 drug companies, all connected to the NIBSC rather
He says: 'The NIBSC is a centre of the UK's Health Protection Agency, a
not-for-profit public body whose purpose is to enhance and safeguard public
It must engage with many pharmaceutical companies and, in some instances, it is
appropriate to charge them for products and services.'
The Department of Health said: 'Committee members do not take part in
discussions that may involve a potential conflict of interest.'
But that raises the possibility of more than half of the handpicked advisers
being shut out of key discussions.