On June 20, 2006, the New York Times reported that "two influential senators are expected within weeks to introduce a legislative proposal that could drastically change how drugs are tested and approved in the United States."
The Senators behind the proposal are Michael Enzi (R-Wy), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Ted Kennedy (D-MA), the ranking Democrat on the committee.
"In broad terms," the Times article by Gardner Harris explains, "the bill would require that drug makers disclose the results of all large human tests of their drugs, known as Phase 3 and Phase 4 trials; create a detailed risk management plan to uncover and control any safety problems that arise after a drug is approved; and pay penalties if they fail to follow through with this plan, according to four experts who were briefed on the proposals."
The best example of the administration's efforts to protect Big Pharma was revealed recently when the FDA announced a preemption rule that would disallow lawsuits in state court against drug makers if a drug has been approved by the FDA.
"We think that if your company complies with the FDA processes, if you bring forward the benefits and risks of your drug, and let your information be judged through a process with highly trained scientists, you should not be second-guessed by state courts that don't have the same scientific knowledge," said FDA deputy commissioner on medical and scientific affairs, Scott Gottlieb.
For instance, on June 14, 2006, a National Institute of Health Alzheimer's researcher, Dr Trey Sunderland, asserted his Fifth Amendment rights, and refused to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about accusations that he has profited from giving Pfizer access to spinal fluid and plasma samples collected by the NIH.
Documents presented at the hearing revealed that between 1996 an 2004, Dr Sunderland accepted consulting, speaking and advisory fees totaling about $612,000 and committee staff members estimate that about $285,000, was related to 3,245 samples taken from 538 patients who participated as volunteers at the NIH.
At a price of about $12,000 per patient, the committee estimates the cost of collecting the samples that Dr Sunderland handed to Pfizer is close to $6.5 million.
The committee also noted that he did not seek prior approval to work for Pfizer, and did not report any of the income to the agency as required by NIH rules.
In fact, at one point, when asked, Dr Sunderland said he had no outside deals. According to the December 22, 2004 LA Times, while reviewing financial disclosure reports from scientists at the NIH, in March 2000, ethics officer Olga Boikess noticed that Dr Sunderland had not declared any jobs with the industry so she sent him an e-mail that said: "You did not list any outside positions."
This case had been dragging on for years but the doctor has probably not been too worried because history shows that any time a Republican lawmaker get too pesky about the money trails leading to the NIH, Big Pharma simply offers enough money to induce him to jump ship.
A couple years ago, two Republicans on powerful committees switched sides shortly after they launched investigations into conflicts of interest between drug companies and employees at the NIH.