Thursday, September 06, 2012

Researcher Who is Unsure that Smoking is Any More Hazardous than Vaping has Hidden Her Big Pharma Conflict of Interest

Over the past few months, I have revealed numerous examples of electronic cigarette opponents who have turned out to have financial conflicts of interest with Big Pharma and who, in some cases, have hidden those connections. These conflicts are important because pharmaceutical companies that manufacturer and/or market smoking cessation drugs stand to lose enormously if electronic cigarettes become more popular.

Today, I discuss the latest example of what I believe is misrepresentation of scientific evidence on the safety of electronic cigarettes by a researcher who turns out to have a conflict of interest with Big Pharma and to have hidden that conflict of interest at least once, but possibly twice.

The Rest of the Story

Yesterday, I discussed an abstract presented at the annual meeting of the European Respiratory Society earlier this week, in which the research was misrepresented as indicating that electronic cigarette use has been shown to damage the lungs and that electronic cigarette use is not known to be any safer than smoking. In searching for a reason why the press release misrepresented the findings of the paper, the first thought that came to my mind is that perhaps there is a financial conflict of interest with Big Pharma. And indeed, it turns out that one of the study authors - Dr. Gratziou - was lead author of a study that was funded by, and conducted in part by Pfizer, maker of Chantix, a drug which stands to lose considerable sales if electronic cigarettes become popular.
It turns out that the story may not end there. It appears that Dr. Gratziou was an investigator on this Pfizer-funded clinical trial of Chantix which was initiated in November 2007. She is listed as a co-author on one manuscript reporting the results of this trial and lead author of another manuscript reporting the results of this trial.

In a study published in 2009 on the effectiveness of buproprion for smoking cessation, the financial disclosure statement reads: "All the authors of this paper declare that they have no financial or other potential conflicts of interest concerning the subject of this manuscript."

It appears, however, that Dr. Gratziou did have a financial conflict of interest, as it appears that she was an investigator on the Pfizer-funded clinical trial of varenicline which was initiated in 2007.

As I pointed out yesterday, Dr. Gratziou's financial interest in Pfizer was not disclosed in the abstract to her 2012 presentation at the annual meeting of the European Respiratory Society on the acute respiratory effects of electronic cigarettes, nor was it disclosed in the press release reporting the results of that study.

Thus, it now appears that on two occasions, the financial interest in Pfizer was not disclosed in research evaluating products that are potential competitors to those made by Pfizer for smoking cessation.

The failure to disclose this conflict of interest is an important breach, because it hides from the public the potential bias introduced by the conflict, and thus does not allow the public to properly evaluate the validity of the study and its conclusions.

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