The post I put up last week – “Statin critics cleared: top statin advocate knuckles’ rapped” – got over 5000 views (huge for this site) which suggests there is considerable in interest in the backstage activity behind the remarkable drive to get the entire nation on statins. (If you are new to this site do have a look at it or what follows maybe rather confusing)
What’s new this week is that we now know just how much funding Sir Rory Collins gets from drug companies as head of the Oxford based statin research unit – the CTT (Cholesterol Treatment Trialists Collaboration). Something in excess of £268 million.
This revelation appears in the full report by the committee set up to investigate whether the BMJ (British Medical Journal) should withdraw two papers that had raised questions about the safety and effectiveness of statins ( see previous post for details).
The report was published last Saturday and the headline points were widely reported – no need to retract papers. But at the time all the data collected by the committee wasn’t available on-line. When it was all put up almost no one burrowed through the appendices to discover Sir Rory’s highly revealing disclosure.
An insatiable appetite for documents
One person who did was nutritionist and whole food campaigner Zoe Harcombe who has an insatiable appetite for original documents and statistics. She has posted an account of what she found here and this post borrows from it with her permission.
I and various other statin sceptics, including Zoe, had suggested that Sir Rory and the CTTs funding could be anywhere between 100 and 200 million but we couldn’t say for sure because the CTT is far from transparent see “Five worrying questions about statins”
In fact until now the official line taken by the organisation has been that it was an independent research unit, funded by non-commercial, charitable sources such as the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK. This, as Sir Rory’s statement now makes clear, was highly misleading. His emails reveal his readiness to withhold details of his own interests even while demanding others to show theirs.
It is standard practice these days for the authors of scientific papers to detail any relevant payments at the end. This is what the authors Sir Rory was attacking had done in their papers.
A high level of hypocrisy
On 31st March 2014 Sir Rory sent an email to BMJ mentioning conflict of interests and saying “it may be helpful” to provide details on how the CTT is funded. He then trots out the standard account of the British Heart Foundation etc. and requests details of conflicts of interests declared by the authors, even though they had already been published.
Just two weeks later without the slightest suggestion he was performing a volte face and engaging in high level hypocrisy Sir Rory again asked for conflict of interest statements from the authors saying: “this information should quite properly be in the public domain.”
He then declared that in a “spirit of reciprocity” (rather than; “something quite different to what I have been saying in public for years”) he was attaching details of “all grants from industry” the CTSU (a parent body of CTT We have no information on how funds are allocated between the two) had received. And there it all is:
Top funder is Merck
What first jumps out is that top funder by a very long way is major statin company Merck, which contributed a whopping 217.5 million out of around 268 million. So the honest answer to the question: Who funds you? would be: Merck.
The second most notable feature is just how tiny the contribution from those supposedly official funders. The British Heart Foundation made five donations the largest being £2.7 million. The Medical Research Council managed two, the largest being £ 9.6 million and trailing very badly was Cancer Research UK with a paltry £200.000. Misleading or what? (Collins said the statement concerned grants from industry. In fact it included these charitable donations as well. No information if there is another list of contributions)
Given that Sir Rory had stressed in his email to the BMJ that conflict of interest statements “should quite properly be in the public domain” Zoe wondered just how rigorous he had been in declaring them. Sir Rory’s most recent article on PubMed – the big online medical research database – had a conflict of interests section which mentions CTT and, wait for it, the familiar British Heart Fig leaf etc.
She also found – oh delicious irony – that the last article he had written for the BMJ was on “confidential data” on which he is undoubtedly an expert. This time competing interests were listed as: None.
So it’s now clear that the CTT and its boss were both extremely “economical with the actualité” as far as their interests went and about the ability of anyone else to examine the data they based all their studies on. Given such lack of transparency, can we really be expected to trust their conclusions about statins?
If the Scottish proverb “confession is good for the soul” holds true then the soul of Sir Rory must be feeling lighter and springier this week. Unfortunately a spring in their step is precisely what many of those suffering statin side effects are sorely lacking.