March 27, 2008

Big Tobacco’s Influence on Research in Question

New questions regarding "Big Tobacco's" influence in the research industry arose when the New York Times reported on Wednesday that one project received a large donation from a parent company of cigarette maker Liggett Group Inc.

Researchers had previously disclosed Liggett's identity in the October, 26 2006 dated study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Studies conducted by Weill Cornell Medical College in 2006 reported that routine CT lung scans were an effective method of finding cancer in time to prevent deaths.

The Cornell team received additional funding from a variety of groups including the American Cancer Society and the federal government. Liggett announces its donation to the Cornell foundation in 2000 in a press release. But the foundation's funding source wasn't listed to the journal.

Liggett claims to have "had no control or influence over the research," according to company spokeswoman Carrie Bloom.

Liggett's owner was the first of tobacco companies to acknowledge that tobacco was addictive and deadly.

Dr. John Niederhuber, director of the National Cancer Institute, noted that trust is a crucial issue between patients and researchers.

"Any breach of that trust is not simply disappointing but, I believe, unacceptable," he added.

Cornell's dean, Dr. Antonio Gotto, acknowledged that funding received from Liggett should have been disclosed, but added that "the claim that we set this foundation up in order to cover up the money just isn't true. We made a public announcement that we were taking the money from the tobacco company."

While the lead Cornell researcher, Dr. Claudia Henschke declined to respond to recent questions, Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, editor in chief of JAMA, said Henschke didn't believe the patents were relevant to the research and resisted disclosing them.

"We'd been working with Dr. Henschke trying to get her to write a letter of apology - which is our policy - and to take responsibility," DeAngelis said. "It was not easy to get her to do anything."

DeAngelis added that she would have declined to publish the research had she known about the tobacco funding.

With a growing community of lung cancer patients in dire need of new technology, spiral CT scans were touted as a way to find tumors earlier. Interest in the scans abilities were heightened after Henschke published a study in 1999 saying they found more tumors than conventional X-rays.

The National Cancer Institute has taken recent heat after two of its members were reportedly paid by tobacco companies as expert witnesses in lawsuits.

Laurie Fenton Ambrose, president of the Lung Cancer Alliance said the attacks against Henschke are nothing short of "mudslinging."

"There is a difference between money that is provided independent of any tobacco control that would help fund research that would advance better patient outcomes and money that tobacco (companies) pay researchers for their testimony against screening in class action lawsuits," she said.

"Investigators involved in the study do not have access to the data collected and cannot influence the data in any way that might affect the outcome of the trial," Niederhuber said, adding that an independent safety monitoring board is now in place.


On the Net:

Survival of Patients with Stage I Lung Cancer Detected on CT Screening

National Cancer Institute

Cornell University