June 4, 2010
Scientists who drew up the key World Health Organisation guidelines advising governments to stockpile drugs in the event of a flu pandemic had previously been paid by drug companies which stood to profit, according to a report out today.
An investigation by the British Medical Journal and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the not-for-profit reporting unit, shows that WHO guidance issued in 2004 was authored by three scientists who had previously received payment for other work from Roche, which makes Tamiflu, and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), manufacturer of Relenza.
City analysts say that pharmaceutical companies banked more than $7bn (£4.8bn) as governments stockpiled drugs. The issue of transparency has risen to the forefront of public health debate after dramatic predictions last year about a swine flu pandemic did not come true.
Some countries, notably Poland, declined to join the panic-buying of vaccines and antivirals triggered when the WHO declared the swine flu outbreak a pandemic a year ago this week. The UK, which warned that 65,000 could die as a result of the virus, spent an estimated £1bn stockpiling drugs and vaccines; officials are now attempting to unpick expensive drug contracts.