Significant Shadowy Financial Conflicts of Interest Behind Persecution of Andrew Wakefield

The difficulty of identifying academic experts who have not crossed over to the commercially funded research was acknowledged by Dr. Marcia Angell, just before she relinquished her position as editor of The New England Journal of Medicine (“Is Academic Medicine for Sale?” 2000). It is now openly discussed by journal editors. In an editorial in The Lancet, “the Politics of Disclosure”(1996) the editor raised the following question: “should the opinions of researchers who have collaborated with industry be disqualified from the pages of journals?”

Medical scientists’ collaboration with industry is the current norm and practice; it is an accepted dual-role in what has become corporate medicine. Medical researchers routinely provide their expertise as expert witnesses in return for very high fees.

Even more crucial, they serve also as consultants, research collaborators, and speakers (frequently giving talks written by drug companies. They bring big grants to their home institutions.  They pen their name to reports which were edited or, even entirely ghostwritten, by PR firms hired by pharmaceutical companies. Those “research reports” are published by the highest impact — i.e, the most read and most cited journals. These same researchers become “key opinion leaders” (KOLs in industry parlance) who are sought out as “experts” for quotes by the media. What’s more, these are the most likely medical academics who are invited to sit on government advisory committees.

All too often, medical academics selected by PHARMA as their “authorities” are those who rise to the top of their profession. They often become department heads in top medical schools, and may even become editors of a major medical journal. Or they can achieve the greatest financial and professional rewards by licensing their inventions or intellectual property to industry.

For example, Dr. Paul Offit, the Merck endowed Director of Vaccine Education at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) holds the patent for the rotavirus vaccine Rotateq which was licensed to Merck and the Wistar Institute in 1992. Dr. Offit has never disclosed his profits from the vaccine. Credible sources estimate that his initial lump sum was more than $8 million with a continuing stream of royalties which are estimated to have earned him another $10 million by 2009. He has continued to cash in royalties every year. Forbes reported in 2014:

In 2008, CHOP sold their worldwide rights to royalties from the vaccine for $182 million. Offit’s personal or laboratory share has never been disclosed publicly, but typical intellectual property agreements in academic research allow for the inventors to share in up to 25% of institutional income.

Dr. Offit’s public role is as an authority on vaccines and autism; he is the most quoted authority in media news accounts. Although he was once criticized by a Congressional committee for his conflicts of interest (in 2000); specifically for participating in the approval process of the vaccine from which he stood to gain huge profits. Indeed, Dr. Offit sat on the CDC vaccine advisory panel while his own patented vaccine, Rotateq®, was undergoing clinical trials.

Dr. Offit’s enormous financial interest in promoting vaccines is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media, nor is his blatant conflict of interest discussed in medical journals. Furthermore, he continues to be a member of CDC’s advisory committee where he has voted to recommend that Rotateq be added to the Vaccines for Children program. In February 2006, RotaTeq was approved for inclusion in the recommended U.S. vaccination schedule. As  Dr. Joseph Mercola once quipped, “Offit voted himself rich.”

Dr. Paul Offit, who failed to disclose his business collaboration with Merck in his publications for years; while continuing to earn millions of dollars in royalties, is a respected, sought after, much quoted “expert.”

So, why, one must ask, was Andrew Wakefield singled out and pilloried as a heretic for collaborating with the other side? Why is Dr. Paul Offit, whose collaboration with Merck on the rotavirus vaccine was undisclosed for years while continuing to earn millions of dollars in royalties, a sought after, much quoted “expert,” while Wakefield is tainted as a demon for agreeing to serve as an expert witness on behalf of beleaguered families of severely ill children?

Why is his action considered a crime? And exactly who are his persecutors?

The conflict of interest charges leveled at Dr. Wakefield:

Failure to disclose in the Lancet his involvement in a class action lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers for which he was paid 55,000 pounds.

  • The Lancet study was not the one involving the lawsuit, and no money from lawyers was involved.
  • His accusers buried, distorted, and fabricated the sequence of events and facts. A crucial, inconvenient fact that got lost in the flurry of accusations was that there were two studies. One published in the Lancet, the other – commenced later – was in preparation for a class action lawsuit paid for by the Legal Aid Board. The clinical protocol for Lancet study was developed and led by Professor John Walker-Smith who had already selected and evaluated the Lancet children seven months before the legal study. Dr. Wakefield provided research support, not clinical direction.
  • The fact that there were two studies was confirmed by all three doctors who were subjected to the General Medical Council (GMC) show trial whose entire proceedings and verdict the British High Court denounced in 2012 in its ruling on Professor Walker-Smith’s appeal. (For a detailed overview of the documented facts and historical sequence, read Professor William Long, PhD, JD, a former law professor, former litigation attorney… The Autism File, 2009)

Dr. Wakefield is accused of concealing an interest in a patent for a competing vaccine; of creating an MMR crisis in order to replace that vaccine with his own; with the expectation of a huge financial windfall.

  • The patent holder was was the Royal Free Hospital, not Dr. Wakefield; and the patent which was for a therapeutic follow-up vaccine, was  never developed.

His role as expert witness needs to be considered within the context of a debate within and outside of academia: whether it is unethical for a doctor to act as an expert witness or to conduct research in preparation for litigation. If this is to be considered ipso facto a conflict of interest, then most prominent medical scientists who have served as expert witnesses and were paid hefty fees for their service should all be pilloried.

Such a conclusion would greatly favor corporations (generally the defendants in product liability cases) who are in a financial position to employ squadrons of scientists.  However, such a conclusion would close legal recourse to ordinary citizens – for whom litigation is the only channel for obtaining any justifiable compensation. Without an expert medical witness, ordinary people would be denied the right to seek just compensation.

One might argue that the study that Dr. Wakefield designed for the purpose of litigation – not the one published in the Lancet – may have been designed under the influence of bias. After all, Dr. Wakefield had agreed to testify as an expert witness in the case.

However, as legal scholars have pointed out, it is not clear that industry-funded research is less biased or more scientifically reliable than research conducted for litigation which will be far more scrutinized by a court, than is research not conducted for litigation, which undergoes questionable, often biased, mostly  unreliable academic peer-review. (“Conflicts of Interest in Scientific Expert Testimony,” Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship and History, 1998)

Financial Conflicts of Interest: Murdoch/ GlaxoSmithKline;  BMJ / Merck Partnership

Brian Deer filed formal complaints with the General Medical Council (GMC) against Dr. Wakefield and Professor John Walker-Smith while obtaining an agreement of secrecy that he would not be named as the complainant. By maintaining secrecy about his interest in prosecuting the doctors –he was enabled to continue reporting on the GMC hearing as if he were an objective, independent journalist. The public was deceived.

Among Deer’s allegations was that the Lancet study was carried out for the purpose of litigation; that Dr. Wakefield falsified the children’s medical records; and that he did it for the money. Deer’s fabricated allegations were irresponsibly disseminated by the BMJ under the headline: “How the Vaccine Crisis Was Meant to Make Money: a secret scheme to raise huge sums”

The Sunday Times was a component of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, which was compared to the Mafia by a Member of Parliament, who offered the following description of Murdoch’s News International in the UK: “A group of people who are bound together by secrecy who together pursue their group’s business objectives with no regard for the law, using intimidation, corruption and criminality.(Daily Mail, Nov. 2011)

Rupert Murdoch’s syndicate has considerable financial interests in pharmaceuticals, including vaccines. His son James sat (at the time) on the board of GlaxoSmithKline until the Murdoch phone hacking scandal forced him to resign. (Wall Street Journal, 2012)  The MMR vaccine is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline and Merck.

Brian Deer was commissioned by the editor of the Sunday Times to “find something big about MMR.” Deer followed the contemptible Murdoch journalistic modus operandi in his strategy of attack which aimed at discrediting the doctor whose public warning about possible safety hazards linked to the 3-in-1 MMR vaccine, posed a significant financial threat to vaccine stakeholders.  Deer’s stories were secretly crafted with the help of MedicoLegal Investigations (MLI), the investigative arm of the British Pharmaceutical Association. Posted on MLI’s website:

the problems found in the paper by Dr. Andrew Wakefield (as published in the Lancet) concerning MMR and autism were shared with MLI in strict confidence whilst Brian Deer’s fine piece of investigative journalism was under way. We were asked to advise…”

Deer’s witch hunt was secretly initiated on behalf of the MMR vaccine manufacturers whose control of both the major news outlets and the professional journals are camouflaged by layers of subsidiaries. To name but a few conflicts of interest that fueled the media frenzy: The head of Reuters serves on the Board of Merck; Miriam Stoppard who writes at the Daily Mirror is married to Sir Christopher Hogg, who was Chairman of GlaxoSmithKline in 2004.

Dr. Surendra Kumar, the Chairman of the GMC Fitness to Practice Panel who ruled against Dr. Wakefield, sat on two medicine licensing committees that licensed the MMR vaccine. Dr. Kumar would not answer questions about his own shareholdings in GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of the MMR. (Martin Walker, “An Interest in Conflict?”) After the GMC hearing, he led a debate at the British Medical Association and called for compulsory MMR vaccination for UK children.

In 2008, the BMJ signed a partnership with MSD, the initials for Merck Sharp and Dohme, the UK subsidiary of Merck & Co. Not to be outmaneuvered, the Lancet also signed a partnership with “Univadis®   the MSD subsidiary.

“This partnership with Univadis(R) will play a crucial role in opening the gateway for physicians into BMJ Learning. BMJ Learning is already used by 82,000 doctors in the UK and this partnership will enable doctors in many different countries to benefit from BMJ Group’s expertise in medical education,” says Michael Chamberlain, Chairman of BMJ Group. “

“Univadis® brings together premium content publishers — ‘Our Partners’ JAMA and The Lancet’—that deliver comprehensive and up-to-date medical information. Access to exclusive presentations by medical experts…More Lancet specialty titles FREE to Univadis members” (www.Univadis.org)

“We chose to work with the BMJ Group because they are one of the most respected medical courses providers, making them a perfect partner for us… it strengthens the position of univadis(R) as a trusted, professional and comprehensive news, information and educational resource for the medical community”.

Merck’s website states:

“MSD is a global healthcare leader working to help the world be well. MSD is a trade name of Merck & Co., Inc., with headquarters in Kenilworth, NJ, USA. Through our prescription medicines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers and operate in more than 140 countries to deliver innovative health solutions. People count on us to make medicines and vaccines that have well documented safety and effectiveness profiles and offer value. Clinical trials (also known as clinical studies) are a critical step in this process. (www.msc-uk.com)  (Martin J. Walker. Merck’s Medical Media Empire, The Whale)

For detailed insight into the interconnected financial ties that bind the billionaires of Wall Street and media moguls with vaccine and bio-genetic companies, read the COTO Report.

Politicians, government officials – even the judiciary exert influence
On February 27, 2004, in a secret judgment by High Court Judge Sir Nigel Davis was withdrawn legal aid for the families of vaccine injured children. The reasons for the decision were undisclosed; they remain secret. Evidence given in open court at a different hearing included the allegation from a parent that an official admitted to her that legal aid was withdrawn after pressure from the government.

Judge Nigel Davis is the brother of Sir Crispin Davis, who denounced Andrew Wakefield in the House of Commons. Sir Crispin Davis was CEO of Reed Elsevier, owner of The Lancet as well as serving as a member of GlaxoSmithKline’s board of directors. When Judge Nigel Davis challenged about his conflict of interest by the legal correspondent of The Telegraph, Joshua Rosenberg, a statement was issued stating: “The possibility of any conflict of interest arising from his brother’s position did not occur to him.”

On 15th March 2004, Dr. Evan Harris, a member of Parliament

“launched an unprecedented and defamatory Parliamentary attack on Wakefield and his Royal Free colleagues…based on material in documents Sunday Times’ freelancer Deer had obtained and passed to Harris [who] later attended with Deer the subsequent GMC hearings.”(Secret British MMR vaccine Files Forced Open By Legal Action, 2009; read more)

It was reported that the director of the UK Media Standards Trust was stonewalling about the involvement of Dr. Evan Harris, former Member of Parliament, in Brian Deer’s MMR investigation.

John Stone of Age of Autism reported that in November, 2011, that Deer, who has never disclosed his pharmaceutical sponsorships, was enjoying celebrity status at a pharmaceutical conference on the banks of Lake Annecy in the French Alps while dispatching  his missives “More Secrets of the MMR Scare” to the BMJ.

The conference was sponsored by the Fondation Mérieux – its “partners” include all three MMR manufacturers who were defendants in the UK litigation (GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Sanofi). The Fondation was also sponsored by the CDC, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Bank. Brian Deer was a keynote speaker; his topic, “Money, media and retrospection. What drove the MMR crisis, and what lessons should we learn for the future?” Deer was also listed as chair of two additional sessions of the conference.

For his final phase of journalistic assaults, Deer’s received two “specialist reporter” awards from the UK Society of Editors. At least two of the judges who awarded him were Rupert Murdoch luminaries who were involved in the criminal phone hacking scandal that engulfed Murdoch’s entire news empire in 2011.

These were Rebekah Brooks, then senior executive of  News International – which published The Sunday Times and Les Hinton, CEO of Dow Jones, also under the Murdoch brand. Ms. Brooks was forced to resign amidst the scandal; she faced a Parliamentary interrogation, and was arrested, but got off. Les Hinton, likewise was forced to resign as CEO of Dow Jones in the wake of the Murdoch phone hacking scandal. (Read: John Stone, Age of Autism)

Read Further:
Why Andrew Wakefield MD is on our Honors Roll
The GMC kangaroo court charges; the Lancet evaluation; the High Court decision
* Scientific reports validate “controversial” findings reported in The Lancet
Medical doctors recognize the safety problems in the MMR vaccine
* How the case against Andrew Wakefield was concocted
* Monumental betrayal of public trust: CDC malfeasance & vaccine research fraud
Significant shadowy financial conflicts of interest behind the persecution of Wakefield