The National Institutes of Health: Public Servant or Private Marketer?
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.
Brewer was far from alone in taking industry's money: At least 530 government scientists at the NIH, the nation's preeminent agency for medical research, have taken fees, stock or stock options from biomedical companies in the last five years, records show.