Confessions of the great statinator: how Sir Rory Collins told all about his commercial funding

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.

 

 

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Comments

  1. John Wright says:

    How is CTT constituted? Are the FOI routes to access further information? I am sure Zoe or Ben Goldacre may have looked at this but I don’t remember reading anything.

    • Researchers have been trying to access CTT’s vast secret vaults for years and as far as I know FOI is not relevant because it is not a government body,it is a university research institute, although I couldn’t tell you exactly what its legal status is.
      As for Ben G he doesn’t seem to be quite so gripped by transparency fervour as far as statins are concerned. He was one of the author’s on a paper about the role of the “nocebo” effect in relationship to statins – you know you are on the drugs, you feel a muscle ache and so you blame the statins when it is just the normal aches and pains of growing older.This is now being used to explain why observational trials show up with a much higher rate of side-effects that the commercial RCTs.

  2. Margaret Schooling says:

    A couple of days ago on 12 August I listened to this programme, a series called Conflicted Medicine:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04d4n8q

    Listening to Sir Rory Collins I got the distinct impression his unit had received no funding whatever from pharmaceuticals. I would write to Inside Health asking for clarification in view of the above but they’ve ignored my emails in the past so not sure there’s any point. (I’m just a layman listener to the BBC but I get the impression they’re constantly trying to “reassure” us that this kind of “science” can be trusted.)

  3. Mr. Burne,

    Kudos, again, for sticking Sir Rory’s money where his mouth is. Regarding the CTSU funding document that you’ve linked to, which was contained in the report from the BMJ independent review panel…

    The document has this HEADING: “Grants to Oxford University for any Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU) trials or other commercially-funded research over the past 20 years (but excluding CTSU core support from MRC, CR-UK and BHF for these and other studies, as well as other non-commercially funded research)”.

    NOTE: The first part of the heading statement clearly indicates that the document specifies how much funding Oxford University received in “grants” for CTSU trials or other commercially funded research. However, the latter parenthesized part of the heading is somewhat confounding. It indicates that the document excludes information on other “core support” that the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, and the British Heart Foundation have given the CTSU for these and other studies, as well as other non-commercially funded research. What is meant by “core support”? What is its dollar value? What/who was it spent on?

    • Agree that the document is confusing since it does include funding from charities. We can’t tell how much more funding CTT/CTSU gets from other sources.So not full transparency but a step in the right direction. Plan to how much more they will tell us.

  4. Many people are aware of the influence, read power, BigPharma has over science/medicine but the data is not easily available although I have no doubt it will come.

  5. Only last week WDDTY were reporting how a daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks was now believed to be useless – even harmful.

    What do we get this week? Hey presto! A brand new report on how to prevent cancer by….taking a daily aspirin! And even better, the age group who need it are those aged between 50 and 64, just like heart disease.

    So that’s ok – sales of aspirin won’t falter! Whew!

    Liz Brynin (MARH)

    • I think what makes me laugh is that rationalist science/medicine is playing the same ‘magic spell’ game that they mock in centuries past.

      I cannot get my head around how any sane person can believe that the human organism, after millennia of evolution, somehow reached a point in the past 100 years when a pill or a vaccine was required for health. It is delusional.

      The body, as designed and as evolved through nature, is a brilliant piece of complexity and an organism which, in most circumstances can withstand disease or heal as required. Yes, people are born with greater and lesser degrees of resilience and robustness but the function of the body physiologically remains the same and the huge difference came not with modern medicine and its meddling ways but with improvements in nutrition and sanitation.

      Yes, modern medicine has skills in surgery and trauma treatment but it also does huge amounts of harm with its (profit and fear-based) maybe medicine which equates to a level of experimental meddling which may well be seen to be in years to come, malpractice.

      I have no doubt that if science/medicine had not become profit-driven this would not be happening and if doctors had not been turned into ‘priests’ for the new religion of science, this experiment would not be of the magnitude that it is.

      • Hear Hear. Ofcourse, the way to ensure the reduction of resilience and robustness is to vaccinate babies; not once twice but many many times…that way they will be dependant upon various drugs for the rest of their lives = ‘big pharma’ increased profits. The worst thing about it is those who we rely on to look out for us; the people we taxpayers fund to do the job of looking out for us; are colluding with Big Pharma because they too have been ‘bought’.

        • I think there is more arrogance, ignorance and incompetence in human beings than the capacity for conspiracy. So I don’t see it as a plot, just the result of science as a system and medicine as a result, being sourced in the delusion that the body is no more than a machine or bag of chemicals and an arrogant disregard for the wisdom of nature.

          • I agree with you regarding arrogance, ignorance and incompetence but I do also believe in conspiracy. The drug companies profits have grown beyond all expectation and particularly in the USA and UK.
            We have just seen the farce regarding Tammy flu vaccine and Measles and the MMRvaccine in Wales where we have been fed yet more lies and deceit. Consider how the human evolved through thousands of years as a very complex organism, how can it be that nature managed that miracle, when Prof Collins and his cronies would have us believe the human body is defective and we must all take Statins, children and all?
            8 out of 12 personnel sitting on the NHS NICE drugs committee receive financial incentives from drug companies. When House of Commons Select Committe for Health reviewed the relationship with Drug companies and the DOH (DOH controls drug in the NHS as well as healthcare provision,) they found that there was indeed a cosy relationship which benefitted drug companies and they recommended this should be severed and guarded against; the report was filed in a dark corner.
            It has been reported that officials and Drs have received jail sentenses for fraud and corruption; Read Peter C Gotzsche ‘Deadly Medicine and Organised Crime, How big pharma has corrupted healthcare. Also the farce with the MMR scandal when indeed parents today still complain that their children are damaged by this vaccine. Interestingly several major Western countries refused MMR vaccine because they found it damaged children so the UK bought it instead.
            Since my childhood the number of vaccines has grown in number to outrageous proportions. All this medication and we still die of heart disease, Cancer and other terrible disorders infact the number dying both these diseases are greater now than ever.
            Our body is sophisticated given good food and water in adequate amounts and living conditions which promote healthy humans thrive; it is sanitation and blood transfusions which have transformed the world and not dangerous prescription drugs and yet that was the first billion dollar drug of all time. And the drug companies didnt even develop Statins they stole the biology of a natural substance; which incidentally has now been made an illegal substance in the States. That can’t be a coincidence since in law no natural substance can be patented? Well Red Yeast Rice was made an exception and along with lie about cholesterol causing heart disease rakes in more than 40 billion $ p.a. They can afford to bribe a few officials and Professors don’t you think?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Stinks

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