Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists revealed that they were pressured to exclude or alter research findings. Further, they said they fear retaliation for voicing safety concerns and they think that public health and safety will suffer without leadership from the FDA and Congress.

(Press release below the fold)

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today released survey results that demonstrate pervasive and dangerous political influence of science at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Of the 997 FDA scientists who responded to the survey, nearly one fifth (18.4 percent) said that they “have been asked, for non-scientific reasons, to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or their conclusions in a FDA scientific document.” This is the third survey UCS has conducted to examine inappropriate interference with science at federal agencies. [also see the Department of Health and Human Services recent survey results addressing this same topic].

“Science must be the driving force for decisions made at the FDA. These disturbing survey results make it clear that inappropriate interference is putting people in harm’s way,” said Dr. Francesca Grifo, Senior Scientist and Director of UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program. “FDA leaders should act now to improve transparency and accountability and renew respect for independent science at the agency.”

The UCS survey, which was co-sponsored by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, was sent to 5,918 FDA scientists. Forty percent of respondents fear retaliation for voicing safety concerns in public. This fear, scientists say, combines with other pressures to compromise the agency’s ability to protect public health and safety. More than a third of the respondents did not feel they could express safety concerns even inside the agency.

“This is more than just a bureaucratic problem within the agency,” said Kim Witczak, WoodyMatters.com, who lost her husband due to side effects of a dangerous anti-depressant.

“It has real human impacts which can be devastating. My husband paid the ultimate price for FDA’s lack of accountability.”

The survey also revealed other compelling points of concern:

  • 61 percent of the respondents knew of cases where “Department of Health and Human Services or FDA political appointees have inappropriately injected themselves into FDA determinations or actions.”
  • Only 47 percent think the “FDA routinely provides complete and accurate information to the public.”
  • 81 percent agreed that the “public would be better served if the independence and authority of FDA post-market safety systems were strengthened.”
  • 70 percent disagree with the statement that FDA has sufficient resources to perform effectively its mission of “protecting public health*and helping to get accurate science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to improve their health.”

“The FDA regulates products vital to the well-being of all Americans, including food, drugs, vaccines, and medical devices,” said Dr. Grifo. “To fully protect public health and safety, the FDA must have the best available independent scientific data.”

To address the concerns raised by FDA scientists, UCS recommends:

  1. Accountability: FDA leadership must face consequences if they side with commercial or political interests and not with the American people.
  2. Transparency: Scientific research and reviews should be open so any undue manipulation is
  3. Protection: Safeguards must be put in place for all government scientists who speak out.

“What we see at the FDA, while dramatic and frightening, is all too common at many federal agencies,” said Dr. Grifo. “All federal scientists need protections so they can speak out when their science is manipulated, and all federal agencies need fully functioning independent advisory committees. FDA leadership must understand and support independent science and it is up to Congress to hold them accountable.”

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Comments

  1. #1 Orac
    July 20, 2006

    Only around 1/6 of the scientists responded? That’s a pretty low respons rate (although not untypical for such surveys). Given that those who did respond are likely to be a very skewed sample, even though I’m no fan of the Bush administration’s approach to science, I would take this survey with a huge grain of skepticism, given that it almost certainly sampled an unrepresentative sample of the scientists working for the FDA.

  2. #2 llewelly
    July 20, 2006

    I can’t help but notice the color of the pills … red, white, and blue …

  3. #3 martin
    July 25, 2006

    Bush is actively defending big-pharma. He’s appointed lobbyists to the FDA, and there’s this:

    “The FDA is now in the business of helping lawsuit defendants, specifically the pharmaceutical companies,” said James O’Reilly, University of Cincinnati law professor and author of a book on the history of the FDA. “It’s a dramatic change in what the FDA has done in the past.”

    Plus I saw something about preventing drug companies from being sued even if they’d lied in their safety testing. Can’t find that link right now.

  4. #4 Allison
    September 6, 2007

    Hello, I was wondering if I could interview you via phone or email for my senior year research paper about the concerns of the FDA and pharmaceutical companies teaming together to produce more money instead of healthy people.