Monsanto Roundup Lawsuit

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

GlaxoSmithKline Money Trail Down Under Part 3

Click on the sponsorship link on the Australian Herpes Management Forum's website and everything seems to be upfront: "The AHMF is sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline Australia and Novartis Pharmaceuticals via open educational grants.

"GlaxoSmithKline is the founding sponsor of the Australian Herpes Management Forum and the major sponsor for 2003."

But there is something that visitors to the AHMF's website are not told: the group relies entirely on Australia's main herpes drug manufacturers for its existence, and has since it was set up in 1996.

Recently appointed AHMF executive director Trish Berger estimates that in the past financial year, GlaxoSmithKline has given the AHMF about $120,000, or some 80 per cent of its budget. The other 20 per cent comes from Novartis.

There is a strong bond between the AHMF and GlaxoSmithKline, for many years the only major manufacturer of herpes treatments in Australia.

Its constitution was written by Glaxo Wellcome's (now GlaxoSmithKline) Melbourne-based law firm, Deacons, and up until August this year the forum's administration was run by public relations firm Edelman, hired on the recommendation of a well known client - GlaxoSmithKline.

Not surprisingly, Edelman's media releases about herpes on behalf of the AHMF often bore a striking resemblance to those written by the same consultants for GlaxoSmithKline.

Most of the herpes experts who have sat on the AHMF board have also worked with or advised GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis in recent years.

This year the AHMF board has begun to nudge its sponsors away to arm's length, moving to end Edelman's control of the organisation's secretariat. The organisation also created its first paid staff position, Ms Berger's. Her job includes seeking government and other non-pharmaceutical funding.

Ms Berger is keen to see the AHMF distance itself further from its sponsors, to avoid them "competing through us to get their time and profile enhanced".

AHMF chairman Professor Adrian Mindel concedes that the forum has been vulnerable to pressure from GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis because without their funding, "the Australian Herpes Management Forum would cease to exist tomorrow".

But Professor Mindel, who is also professor of sexual health medicine at Sydney University, director of Westmead Hospital's sexually transmitted infection research centre and on the editorial board of the international journal Herpes, insists that the forum and its board have remained independent of their benefactors.

"We're all professionals who are mostly academics in this area, and protecting our own reputations and independence is also terribly important... We think it is a quid pro quo (arrangement) and that we gain some benefit from that by promoting the science and improving the general health of the community. And they get the benefit in terms of their drug. And I'm not sure it's possible to completely separate the two."

In contrast, Professor Mindel says the global version of the AHMF, the International Herpes Management Forum, may be a different story.

He says although the IHMF "produces some very high quality material... whether it is completely unbiased I think is sometimes questionable" because of its close ties to drug companies.

The AHMF is one of 21 national organisations modelled on the IHMF, which was set up in 1993 to be "an authoritative voice on issues relating to the management of herpes infections". It was a worthy aim, with a wealthy backer.

GlaxoSmithKline has provided a steady income for the IHMF, funding its Herpes journal, sponsoring research awards and paying for the creation of herpes management guidelines intended for international adoption.

Today Glaxo is one of three pharmaceutical companies, along with 3M Pharmaceuticals and Novartis, keeping the IHMF afloat.

More than half of the current IHMF board have links to GlaxoSmithKline, such as leading trials of its herpes drugs, or in one case featuring in a Glaxo-sponsored television special.

In December 1999, the IHMF spawned a patient offshoot, the International Herpes Alliance, which also relied on GlaxoSmithKline funding to get started.

Novartis has since signed on as a sponsor too, and the companies' influence pervades the IHA website. Its "educational" material for journalists has been written by the "organisations (that) have made educational contributions to the International Herpes Alliance for the promotion of herpes awareness" - in other words, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis.