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Research Article

“A Good Personal Scientific Relationship”: Philip Morris Scientists and the Chulabhorn Research Institute, Bangkok

  • Ross MacKenzie,

    Affiliation: School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

    X
  • Jeff Collin mail

    To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: jeff.collin@ed.ac.uk

    Affiliation: Centre for International Public Health Policy, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland

    X
  • Published: December 23, 2008
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050238

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Response to "A Good Personal Scientific Relationship”: Philip Morris Scientists and the Chulabhorn Research Institute, Bangkok

Posted by plosmedicine on 26 Jan 2010 at 18:50 GMT

This comment was provided by email to PLoS Medicine and has been submitted by PLoS Medicine on behalf of the authors named below.

Dear Editor,

We write to express our disappointment and disagreement with the scientific methodology used and the conclusions of the paper: MacKenzie R, Collin J (2008) ‘‘A good personal scientific relationship: Philip Morris scientists and the Chulabhorn Research Institute, Bangkok” PLoS Med 5(12). We base our response on long and extensive direct experience with the Chulabhorn Research Institute (CRI) and detailed knowledge of its academic, research and outreach programs.

The article is based largely on the internal reports of Roger Walk to his employer, Philip Morris. Dr. Walk grossly exaggerated his relationship with CRI, hence impugning its excellent reputation, in an apparent attempt to enhance his position within his company. MacKenzie and Collin mined the Tobacco Legacy documents available on the Internet and, unfortunately, uncritically accepted prima facie the data they selectively culled from the document library. The quality of data gathered on the Internet is often so low that it requires independent verification. Walk’s claims of influence within the CRI network should not have been accepted without an attempt to determine from within Thailand or from those with direct knowledge of CRI practices whether he, indeed, had any influence whatsoever upon the programs of CRI. He did not. The authors and Journal showed questionable judgment in their respective roles leading to the publication of this paper.

The factual record, in the public domain, is readily verifiable within the international scientific community that knows the CRI well and /or members of the CRI. Some of the facts are:

1. The association of Walk with CRI was:
a) 15 man-days (1993-1994) offering consultancy advice to the architects designing the animal facility for the inhalation laboratory. This consultancy was paid by the German Government and CRI.
b) Four to six hours per year lecturing in a course; this represents considerably less than 1% of the lecturing in the postgraduate programs. His lecturing ceased in 2006.

2. Walk was not a member of the curriculum development committee. He attended one meeting as an “observer” out of a total of 22 meetings of the committee. He also was not a member of any of the CRI advisory boards, as was insinuated in the article. These facts could easily have been checked.

3. The Philip Morris funding of US$12,000 was for two speakers proposed by Walk at the 1999 International Science Congress, at which there were 110 speakers. They were the only two tobacco industry funded speakers in all the six international Congresses with a total of 504 speakers. The PM money was routed through the Organizing Committee and not through CRI.

4. CRI has never requested or received any funding from Philip Morris or any tobacco company for its research, post graduate education or training activities.

5. None of the nearly 300 scientific publications from CRI, mostly peer reviewed and published in international Journals, was on ETS, which the article defined as “environmental tobacco smoke,” a term used by tobacco industry about health risks associated with exposure to passive or second-hand smoke

In summary, there is no tangible evidence that Walk had any influence at CRI. The lack of verifiable facts resulted in seriously incorrect conclusions on the part of the authors. If the authors had approached CRI with their findings, or the international scientific community with extensive knowledge of the Institute, they would have readily ascertained Walk’s insignificant role in CRI’s programs and that the Institute has no relationship with the tobacco industry.

It is extremely unfortunate that this article, using incorrect information, damages the integrity and reputation of a dedicated center of excellence that has a long history of service for the benefit of public health.

Sincerely

1) Professor Herman Autrup
Professor of Environmental Medicine
School of Public Health
University of Aarhus
Aarhus, Denmark
Email: HA@MIL.AU.DK

2) Professor Frederick F. Becker
Professor of Molecular Pathology
University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, Texas, USA
Email: ffbecker@mdanderson.org

3) Dr. John H. Duffus
Director, The Edinburgh Centre for Toxicology
43 Mansionhouse Road
Edinburgh EH9 2JD
Scotland, UK
Email: J.H.Duffus@blueyonder.co.uk

4) Professor John M. Essigmann
Professor of Chemistry and Toxicology
Department of Biological Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Ave.,
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
USA
Email: jessig@MIT.EDU

5) Professor Leona D. Samson
Director, Center for Environmental Health Sciences
Department of Biological Engineering
Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research
Department of Biology
Broad Institute
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Ave, 56-235
Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Email: lsamson@MIT.EDU

6) Professor Ronald C. Shank
Professor Community and Environmental Medicine
Director, Graduate Program in Environmental Toxicology
University of California, Irvine
USA
Email: rcshank@uci.edu

7) Professor Gerald N. Wogan
Underwood-Prescott Professor Emeritus of Toxicology
Professor Emeritus of Chemistry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Biological Engineering
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 26-009
Cambridge MA 02139-4307
USA
Email: wogan@MIT.EDU

Competing interests declared: The competing interest declaration of each author is listed below that author's name and affiliation:

Herman Autrup
Professor of Environmental Medicine
School of Public Health
University of Aarhus
Aarhus, Denmark
Email: HA@MIL.AU.DK

I have never received any funding for research from the tobacco industry. I did publish a paper in 1986 on the Metabolism of Tobacco specific carcinogen (Acta Pharmacol Toxicol 59: 339-344). The work was sponsored by a core grant from the Danish Cancer Society and the tobacco smoke condensate fractions were provided by The Swedish Tobacco Company. My contact with David Doolittle, as mentioned in the letter from PLOS was based upon a contact following the IUTOX meeting in Seattle, where we co-chaired a session on biomarkers. He was interested in a project on biomarkers for carcinogens present in tobacco, thus I made a proposal which never moved beyond this first stage as indicated in the letter.

Frederick F. Becker
Professor of Molecular Pathology
University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, Texas, USA
Email: ffbecker@mdanderson.org

A grant from the Council for Tobacco Research (an organization that the tobacco companies declared in public documents was free and independent of its influence) was awarded to me and James German at Sloan Kettering in 1988 (22 years ago) to support a study of DNA ligase structure in Bloom's Syndrome, a rare human genetic disorder with a high disposition to cancer. No further funds were received.

John H. Duffus
Director, The Edinburgh Centre for Toxicology
43 Mansionhouse Road
Edinburgh EH9 2JD
Scotland, UK
Email: J.H.Duffus@blueyonder.co.uk

My only contacts ever with anyone connected with a tobacco company were my few brief conversations with Roger Walk. I have never been approached to do tobacco related research nor have I ever received any funding from a tobacco company or any institution funded by such a company. I have never published any paper or book which mentioned tobacco except as a confounding factor in studies of lung disease and especially in epidemiological studies of cancers of the respiratory system. In all relevant lectures, I have always listed the many potential toxicants in cigarette smoke and the potential to form new toxicants in a burning cigarette or other smoking material.

John M. Essigmann
Professor of Chemistry and Toxicology
Department of Biological Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Ave.,
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307, USA
Email: jessig@MIT.EDU

I state with conviction that I have never had any connection with the tobacco industry.

Leona D. Samson
Director, Center for Environmental Health Sciences
Department of Biological Engineering
Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research
Department of Biology
Broad Institute
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Ave, 56-235
Cambridge, MA02139, USA
Email: lsamson@MIT.EDU

I have never had any tobacco related contacts.

Ronald C. Shank
Professor of Community and Environmental Medicine
Director, Graduate Program in Environmental Toxicology
University of California, Irvine, USA
Email: rcshank@uci.edu

The only contact/association I have ever had with any tobacco company, directly or indirectly, was attendance at a one-day seminar on research done on a smokeless cigarette; this took place in San Francisco more than 20 years ago. I don’t remember who sponsored the seminar, nor whether any financial support was provided for my attendance. Later I received a paperback book summarizing the research presented at the seminar, which I no longer have.

Professor Gerald N. Wogan
Underwood-Prescott Professor Emeritus of Toxicology
Professor Emeritus of Chemistry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Department of Biological Engineering
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Room 26-009
Cambridge MA 02139-4307, USA
Email: wogan@MIT.EDU
http://web.mit.edu/gnwlab/

In 1988, I served as chairman of a review committee that evaluated experimental methodology employed and scientific quality of data produced by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company concerning potential toxicity associated with use of Premier "smokeless" cigarettes.