National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research. This is a quote from the NIH website:

“Helping to lead the way toward important medical discoveries that improve people’s health and save lives, NIH scientists investigate ways to prevent disease as well as the causes, treatments, and even cures for common and rare diseases… For over a century, the National Institutes of Health has played an important role in improving the health of the nation.”

Worth Our Trust?

The studies that the NIH funds are a source that physicians look to for guidance on what treatments and drugs to recommend to patients. Can they be trusted? Not so, from what I’ve discovered.

The National Institutes of Health, the nation’s flagship medical research enterprise, was embroiled in a conflict-of-interest scandal after The Los Angeles Times revealed in a December 2004 article that many of the NIH senior scientists had received hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside drug companies pushing cholesterol-lowering drugs.

From the LA Times article:

For 15 million Americans, it is a daily ritual: gulping down a pill to reduce cholesterol.

They do it because their doctors tell them to. Their doctors, in turn, rely on recommendations from the National Institutes of Health and its scientists, such as Dr. H. Bryan Brewer Jr.

Brewer, as a leader at the NIH, was part of a team that gave the nation new cholesterol guidelines that were expected to prompt millions more people to take the daily pill. He also has written favorably of a specific brand of cholesterol medication, Crestor, which recently proved controversial.

What doctors were not told for years is this: While making recommendations in the name of the NIH, Brewer was working for the companies that sell the drugs. Government and company records show that from 2001 to 2003, he accepted about $114,000 in consulting fees from four companies making or developing cholesterol medications, including $31,000 from the maker of Crestor.

Crestor has been implicated as the cause of a multitude of cognitive, muscle and nerve problems in patients taking it. In March of 2004, only eight months after the release of Crestor, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen called for the FDA to ban Crestor. Three cases of kidney failure associated with severe rhabdomyolysis had already occurred in the United States. One case resulted in the death of the patient. More portentously, seven other cases of rhabdomyolysis and nine more cases of kidney failure had also occurred in Canada and the United Kingdom.

More Problems at the NIH

The 2004 incident was not the first time that high-level scientists at the National Institutes of Health had been under suspicion. According to another LA Times story in June of 1996, Dr. Richard Eastman was the director of the NIH division in charge of diabetes research, and in charge of the $150 million dollar Diabetes Prevention Program study.

This study was planned to determine whether diabetes could be prevented in people with a high risk of developing diabetes. Rezulin, a diabetic drug made by Warner-Lambert Corporation was chosen to be included in the study.

At the time, Rezulin had just been submitted to the FDA for approval. The drug was put on an accelerated review, but the medical officer chosen to write the review recommended that Rezulin NOT be approved because of its tendency to cause liver inflammation.

Instead, the medical officer was removed from the review board, his remarks discounted, and the drug was approved in February 1997. The NIH diabetes research division began using Rezulin in the Diabetes Prevention Program study, and the drug soon became a best seller for Warner-Lambert.

By December 1997, reports of patients dying from Rezulin-related liver toxicity began appearing. The United Kingdom removed the drug from its market. But the drug stayed on the US market. Although the National Institutes of Health and the FDA were aware of the deaths caused by Rezulin, Dr. Eastman continued to use the drug in his Diabetes Prevention Program study. Rezulin was discontinued by Dr. Eastman only after the death of a study participant in May 1998. The patient, a 55-year-old high school teacher died of liver failure.

The NIH and FDA did not withdraw Rezulin from the market until March 2000. By then, more than 391 deaths had occurred.

Why was Rezulin given such preferential treatment by the NIH and FDA? No one knows. But Dr. Eastman, while in charge of the study in which the school teacher died, was receiving over $75,000 per year in consulting fees from Warner-Lambert, the Rezulin manufacturer.

Further Reading

You can read more about how the damage that statin drugs like Crestor cause at Dr. Duane Graveline’s website. Dr. Graveline’s book, Lipitor, Thief of Memory, in which he writes about how statin drugs affected his health is a must-read on this subject.

For additional reading on the absurdity of the “high cholesterol causes heart disease” hypothesis, visit the THINGS (The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics) website.

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