GIANT DRUG FIRM FUNDS THE AIDS LOBBY
The Sunday Times (London) 30 May 1993
the giant drugs company that makes the controversial anti-AIDS
drug AZT, is facing growing criticism over the pervasiveness of
its influence on AIDS education, treatment and research.
stands accused of using its unique position of power in the British
medical establishment, via its close links with the Wellcome Trust,
the world's richest medical research charity, to establish AZT as
the "gold standard" of AIDS treatment, even though research
suggests the drug is not the breakthrough it was thought to be.
As sales of
AZT have grown last year reaching Pounds 213m the company has extended
its own funding to a huge range of AIDS organisations, including
a parliamentary group to which it has contributed Pounds 65,000.
the result has been to foster a climate in which the anti-viral
approach to AIDS has squeezed out almost all other lines of inquiry.
This is despite scientific evidence from a recent Anglo-French trial,
named Concorde, that AZT does not help in the early treatment of
people who have HIV, and despite strong question marks over its
safety and effectiveness in dealing with AIDS.
The issue is
being taken up in parliament by George Galloway, Labour MP for Glasgow,
Hillhead. "The British health service rolled over on its back
for Wellcome, spending millions of taxpayers' money on this drug,"
he said. "In my opinion the health service has been well and
truly shafted. The hegemony Wellcome have built up ... may turn
out to be one of the greatest medical scandals of the century."
group, the Steering Committee Against AZT Malpractice (SCAM), which
wants the drug withdrawn, is holding a one-day inaugural conference
in London next month at which Professor Peter Duesberg, a world
expert on viruses, will participate. He argues that destructive
lifestyle factors, especially drug abuse, are the commonest cause
of AIDS in Western countries.
group, called Gays Against Genocide (GAG), is to picket the Great
Ormond Street children's hospital in London on Wednesday to protest
against the experimental use of AZT on HIV-positive babies. GAG
has been picketing for six weeks the offices of the Terrence Higgins
Trust, the most prominent AIDS charity, because it is annoyed that
the trust has been producing pro-AZT papers with the company.
the criticisms, arguing that funding has not been confined to people
who hold particular views on AIDS. Dr Martin Sherwood, group public
relations manager, said: "I don't see that our support for
community organisations is doing anything other than trying to get
to a better understanding of disease management."
Martin Walker, a research worker who is to open next month's SCAM
conference, part of the problem lies in the special relationship
between the drugs company, known as the Wellcome Foundation, and
the Wellcome Trust. He believes the trust's enormous power of patronage
it has more than Pounds 200m a year for distribution helps to open
doors at the highest level.
The trust is
forbidden from supporting the activities of the company, and there
is no suggestion that it has distorted its funding to benefit the
firm. However, some of the trust's work has a direct bearing on
HIV and AIDS. It recently set up the Wellcome Centre for Medical
Science, which this month ran an AIDS conference for teachers and
school governors. The main scientific speakers were Professor Anthony
Pinching, who conducted early AZT trials, and Professor Roy Anderson,
a Wellcome grant recipient and a governor of the Wellcome Trust.
have shown that academic institutions at the forefront of AIDS research
have been long-term recipients of trust money. These include the
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University
College and Middlesex School of Medicine.
The trust is
also funding an important study of sexual behaviour and lifestyles,
one aim of which is "to provide data for ... mathematical models
of the spread of HIV in the population". The study is being
conducted through Imperial College, London, whose biology department
is headed by Anderson.
outspoken advocate of the view that AIDS is set to explode internationally,
has contributed extensively to the work of the All-Party Parliamentary
Group on AIDS, which has a membership of more than 150 parliamentarians.
Over the past five years, the group has received Pounds 65,000 from
the Wellcome Foundation, plus extra help for specific projects.
recipient of Wellcome Foundation cash is the British Medical Association
Foundation for AIDS. It received a grant of Pounds 144,000 in 1988.
Foundation helped the Terrence Higgins Trust to set up a fund-raising
division, and backed production of four AIDS "health education"
booklets. The first describes AZT as "the first drug shown
to be effective against HIV". The fourth contains nine pages
about the purported benefits of AZT.
says in its annual report that it has been "active and imaginative"
in promoting its products to opinion-leaders and prescribing physicians,
and adds: "Through our work with HIV and AIDS groups in many
countries, we are learning to communicate effectively with wider