Anderson  Swine flu vaccine  Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage)   Glaxo SmithKline  Conflict of interest 

Swine flu taskforce's links to vaccine giant: More than half the experts fighting the 'pandemic' have ties to drug firms

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By Fiona Macrae and Sophie Borland
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 universities.

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 flu vaccine.

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 the virus.
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 advice.

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 than himself.

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 health.

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.

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