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Study: Drug Industry Finances Studies Advocating Less Regulation

July 23, 1996 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Conservative think tanks behind a movement to curb the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory powers received at least $3.5 million from drug and tobacco companies over the past four years, a study says.

The think tanks have used the money to produce ``a steady stream of reports, fact sheets, op-ed articles and newspaper, radio and television advertisements purporting to document the FDA’s deadly overcaution and bullying of manufacturers,″ said the study by Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader, that was to be released Wednesday.

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``By relying on industry-funded misinformation in crafting FDA legislation, Congress may well threaten the lives and well being of millions of Americans,″ said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. The group supports the FDA’s efforts to regulate the sale of tobacco to minors.

The House Commerce Committee is considering a menu of bills that would revamp the FDA, in part by turning over much of its job to private companies that would approve new medicines and foods under FDA supervision. The Senate could act on a companion measure as soon as next week.

A spokeswoman for one of the think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute, called the report ``diversionary.″ ``This is pretty clearly a substitute for a serious debate,″ said Meredith Munger. ``AEI is well known for its quality economic research on a wide range of issues. If they want to discuss the conclusions of our research, we’d be happy to.″

Because of weak disclosure requirements, much of the money flowing into the campaign to revamp the FDA is untraceable, the study said. But using IRS forms, annual reports and other available information, the report identifies $3.5 million that flowed to seven think tanks from 1992 to 1995. The actual figure is probably far higher, it said.

The top donor was Eli Lilly & Co., which pumped at least $623,800 into the think tanks over the four-year period. Others included Procter & Gamble, $552,500; Bristol-Myers Squibb, $340,000; and SmithKline Beecham, $325,000.

The think tanks _ AEI, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Progress and Freedom Foundation and the Washington Legal Foundation _ lend ``an aura of academic independence″ to what really is a campaign motivated by corporations’ desires for higher profits, the study contended.

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An eighth group involved in the campaign, Citizens for a Sound Economy, received $191,800 from cigarette maker Philip Morris in 1991, and the group’s chairman, C. Boyden Gray, is a lobbyist for drug maker Amgen, the report said.

One senior official of a national business group said Citizens for a Sound Economy provides a way for industry to buy credibility. A company can pay CSE to do research on specific issues that affect the company’s profits, the official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

CSE spokesman Brent Bahler denies the charge and says support comes from those who agree with the group’s deregulatory philosophy. ``Quite frankly, we started (advocating FDA overhaul) long before anyone else took an interest in it,″ he said. ``We cannot be bought or rented.″

FDA Commissioner David Kessler recently testified on Capitol Hill that the legislation ``will put American patients and consumers at risk.″

At the same time, tobacco interests are battling Kessler’s proposal to have the FDA regulate cigarettes.

The FDA is the primary federal agency charged with insuring the safety of the nation’s food, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices. Products under its purview account for roughly one-fourth of all consumer spending.

Critics _ particularly companies whose products are affected by FDA rulings _ say the approval process for new drugs and medical devices is far too long and cumbersome.

Just over a year ago the Washington Legal Foundation took out newspaper ads declaring: ``If a murderer kills you, it’s homicide. If a drunk driver kills you, it’s manslaughter. If the FDA kills you, it’s just being cautious.″

But the Public Citizen study, echoing the FDA, contends many of the stories used to support such claims are distorted or inaccurate. Kessler notes his agency has reduced its backlog of applications for new medical devices and has cut the average approval time for new drugs.

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