I run a fairly large research program at my University. My NIH grant, which runs in the tens of millions, pays for a lot of things, including a portion of my salary. But as Director, my salary is (alas) only a tiny portion of this complex operation, which has many senior principal investigators and core facilities, labs, research groups, post docs, students, research staff, etc., etc. The whole operation has to fit together and work. We’re big but not huge. So $5 million, while accounting noise in Wall Street bailout terms, is a pretty big deal and not because of the paltry half salary I draw for running the whole operation. That’s why this obvious conflict of interest involving an FDA panel on bisphenol A (BPA) stinks to high heaven:
A retired medical supply manufacturer who considers bisphenol A to be “perfectly safe” gave $5 million to the research center headed by the chairman of a Food and Drug Administration panel about to rule on the chemical’s safety.
The July donation from Charles Gelman is nearly 50 times the annual budget of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center, where Martin Philbert is founder and co-director. Philbert did not disclose the donation to the FDA, and agency officials learned of it when reporters asked about it.
Norris Alderson, the FDA’s associate commissioner for science, looked into the matter and said he was satisfied that there was no conflict of interest because Philbert’s salary is not paid by the donation. (Susanne Rust and Meg Kissinger, Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel)
Gelman is an obsessional critic of government regulation of the medical devices industry. He says he made his views on the safety of BPA, fears about which he believes have been conjured up by “mothers’ groups and others who don’t know the science.” Who knows the science, according to non-scientist Gelman? A notorious anti-science website, run by industry flack Steven Milloy, a lawyer and the far right Cato Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute, all of which he helps bankroll. We’ve discussed these folks and their ilk before.
And what is this panel?
Philbert’s committee is expected to release its opinion this month. It will advise the FDA on a draft assessment released by the agency in September. That draft found that products made with bisphenol A are safe for food storage.
The decision of Philbert’s committee is expected to have huge implications on the regulation and sale of the chemical in items such as baby bottles, reusable food containers and plastic wraps.
For his part Philbert denies anyone “contacted him” for the purpose of influencing his judgment on the FDA panel. No, they just contacted him to give him $5 million. Anybody who runs a “risk assessment” institute and takes this kind of money from these kinds of people deserve the well-founded suspicion that now falls on them.
And so does the FDA.