Professor says: “Classsic Pharma shill stuff”

Professor Robert Howard, 13 April 2022: “From memory, it amounted to attending one meeting to help them understand the data from 2 memantine trials. Here’s the 2006 BMJ paper, anyway. Classic Pharma shill stuff.”

19 June 2011:
Professor Rob Howard of University College London  is a leading academic involved in developing scientific understanding for UK doctors in relation to dementia.  He has in the past worked with the pharmaceutical industry:

[Prof Rob Howard] “I was paid to sit on an advisory board for Janssen for a short period in the 1990s and I have in the past been paid to give talks at sponsored symposia. I have not accepted any payments from Industry since 2001 when I became interested in conducting clinical trials. I had before then mostly been an imager and interested in phenomenology, but when I became more of a trialist, it just seemed tidier to not take money. I still get invited to give talks and serve on advisory boards but I don’t accept payment. 

“In 1994/5, having been interested in tacrine since the 1980s with my old boss Raymond Levy, we were a centre for one of the early donepezil trials and Eisai paid for a registrar’s salary for 12 months to carry out participant recruitment and assessments. Pfizer and Lundbeck contributed supplies of donepezil and memantine free of charge for the MRC-funded DOMINO study in 2007. I struggled to get the NHS trusts that were supporting the trial to pay for the dementia drugs and approached the manufacturers as a last resort.”

In November of 2018 I asked Professor Howard if he supported Sunshine legislation? He replied: “I have other windmills of my own to tilt at before I retire, I am afraid . . . I support colleagues making full and honest declarations of their competing interests and their failure to do this being punished by the regulator in the same way that any breach of professional standards or probity would. I am not sure whether legislation is the way to do it and I don’t like the ‘sunshine’ label.” Since then, Professor Howard has stated that he considers seeking  greater transparency in relation to  financial interests “a misguided pursuit”.

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On the 12 April 2022, Prof Rob Howard offered this public ‘clarification’: “I do not receive funding from pharmaceutical companies. I have contributed as a speaker or discussant to scientific meetings within professional organisations that receive sponsorship but I can’t think of anything else in past 10 years. Just to clarify Dr Gordon’s graphic.” 

This ‘clarification’ would not have been necessary if the UK had introduced Sunshine legislation. This ‘clarification’ has also missed the opportunity to acknowledge the past contribution of partnership with industry which can be a key part in the career progression of academics and clinicians who have become today’s key opinion leaders. These influential professionals are in the privileged position of being able to influence the current narrative, including  selecting which details of their own relationships with industry [both past and present] may need ‘clarification’.

From NHS England bio: “Professor Alistair Burns is Professor of Old Age Psychiatry and Vice Dean for the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences at The University of Manchester. He is an Honorary Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist in the Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust (MMHSCT) and is the National Clinical Director for Dementia and Older Peoples’ Mental Health, NHS England.”

It is clear that Professor Alistair Burns has been thoroughly scrupulous in making declarations which confirm that he personally has had no financial competing interests since he took up post as National Clinical Director for Dementia (NHS England).

Prior to this, Professor Burns worked most extensively with the pharmaceutical industry and his declarations can be found with each of the research papers in which he was involved:

Here are other Psychiatrists and Academic involved in Psychiatry for Older Adults [the following is based on declarations that they have given in published research papers]:

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This is an account of a lecture that Professor Burns gave before he became National Clinical Director for Dementia for NHS England:

A number of Academics  involved in dementia research collect classic cars. One academic, who is popularly known as “The King of Lewy Body research”, apparently has a classic car with a personalised number plate that includes ‘LEWY’.

This podcast* is Professor Burns, as National Clinical Director for Dementia, speaking outside Number 10 Downing Street, to Derek CEO of IXICO, 8th November 2012. [*This podcast was removed sometime after I made this hole ousia post. In this podcast the National Clinical Director for Dementia endorsed IXICO and repeated, a number of times, the contact details for this profit-based initiative].

I wrote to Professor Burns at the time about transparency of interests generally amongst the key opinion leaders in Dementia. Professor Burns wrote to me to say that he thought I had “a profoundly negative view” on this matter. Yet, it was the case that Professor Burns had this open-letter published in the BMJ which gave no competing interests for any of the authors:

To return to the present:
In terms of my concerns about inconsistencies in declarations relating to the “Edinburgh Consensus”, Professor Burns has replied as follows [16 January 2018] “Thank you for your e mail, the contents of which I note”. I am concerned, given a repeated pattern here, that the National Clinical Director for Dementia (NHS England) may not be taking this matter as seriously as the General Medical Council guide in “Good Medical Practice”: