Technology

Is Nothing Sacred? Nobel Prize Engulfed in Drug Company Scandal

Reality BaseBy Melissa LafskyDec 19, 2008 5:20 PM

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Welcome to today's heaping dose of cynicism, to start off the weekend right: Scandal has hit none other than the Nobel Prize, after it was revealed that a member of the Nobel selection committee also sat on the board of AstraZeneca, a pharmaceuticals juggernaut that will benefit from this year's award for medicine. The 2008 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine went to three people this year, Luc Montagnier and his (ahem, female) partner Françoise Barre-Sinoussi for discovering HIV, and Harald zur Hausen for his work on the human papilloma virus (HPV) and its link to cervical cancer. Wouldn't you know it, AstraZeneca just happens to have a big fat stake in two lucrative HPV vaccines. To make matters worse:

Two senior figures in the process that chose Mr. zur Hausen have strong links with the pharmaceutical company, which has also recently begun sponsoring the Nobel website and promotional subsidiary. The company strongly denies any wrongdoing.

Ah yes, well as long as they deny any wrongdoing! No matter that these sponsorships are estimated to cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next three years. Also mildly fishy is the fact that the chairman of the five-person committee that assesses Nobel candidates served as a paid consultant for AstraZeneca in 2006. And as if improper drug company ties weren't enough, there's also the little matter of expenses-paid trips to China for Nobel committee members, made with the intention of "tell[ing Chinese] officials how candidates are selected for prizes." The anti-corruption unit of the Swedish police is reportedly starting a preliminary investigation—though Michael Sohlman, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, has dismissed the whole hubbub as a media ploy. Meanwhile, the rest of us can cry into our smörgåsar and wait for Santa to announce his sponsorship deal with Pfizer. Related: RB: Note to Media: They Give Nobel Prizes to Women These Days RB: Clinic to Reveal All Doctor-Drug Industry Ties on the Web RB: Drug Company Pocket-Padding: The Latest Chapter

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