Ten Members of NIH COVID-19 Panel Disclose Pharma Ties: Why Were Two Drugs Pursued While Ivermectin Languished?

Ten Members of NIH COVID-19 Panel Disclose Pharma Ties Why Were Two Drugs Pursued While Ivermectin Languished TrialsiteN

As reported in Just the News, a media startup led by veteran reporter John Solomon, ten of the experts on the NIH’s COVID-19 panel have connections to firms that may be involved in fighting the pandemic. On the one hand, such ties could create conflicts of interests. On the other hand, we in fact actually need the expertise of drug firms if we are going to develop and utilize medicines. According to this piece, “Members of the National Institutes of Health’s COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel have financial ties to a company behind clinical trials of a drug to treat coronavirus, as well as to another large pharmaceutical company involved with developing a COVID-19 vaccine.” Per the NIH, the members of this panel include US doctors, statisticians, and other experts who develop COVID-19 treatment guidelines, “intended for healthcare providers.” Eight panel members disclosed financial relationships with Gilead. They are: Judith Aberg, MDAdaora Adimora, MDJason Baker, MDRoger Bedimo, MDEric Daar, MDDavid V. Glidden, PhD; Susanna Naggie, MD; and Pablo Tebas, MD. And the US had apparently, as of this August 11, 2020 article, bought up the whole supply of Gilead’s remdesivir, according to this source.

Remdesivir and Merck’s Vaccine Don’t Pan Out 

At the time of the Just the News article, Dr. Fauci of NIAID was stating, “The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery—And all of the other trials that are taking place now have a new standard of care.” On the other hand, even back then Dr. William O’Neill, who is a cardiologist and Director at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, was less impressed with the drug. “There is a lot of hype for the drug,” O’Neil said, following up with stating that there is, “no big benefit” to remdesivir. And by now, most would agree with Doctor O’Neil, as outlined in a January 31, 2021 Forbes column. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Solitary study revealed the drug had no real impact on COVID-19, but Gilead countered with alternative results. 

Other pharma connections include Andrew T. Pavia, MD, and Rajesh Gandhi, MD, who both list Merck on their disclosure forms. Merck’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate was then expected to be licensed in early 2021. As we now know, Merck vaccine didn’t work and research was discontinued.

Of course, the jury of study sponsors is mixed on remdesivir. The marketplace has spoken, thanks to early and quite brilliant business and research moves by the company combined with the ACTT-1 NIAID-backed studies. The product has gone on to generate nearly $3 billion in revenue in under a year. This is unprecedented; after all, it was the only approved drug to treat COVID-19. It was approved as a new standard, but as Dr. Fauci acknowledged, it’s “no knock out drug.”

TrialSite Perspective

TrialSite notes with interest that both sets of corporate connections could be seen as at least raising questions. Is it a coincidence that the questionable remdesivir was aggressively pushed while its manufacturer had ties to the Panel? Or frankly, this could be pure coincidence. TrialSite can attest that it would not be possible to staff research agencies and regulators without Pharma connections. You need them, their expertise, know-how and networks. That’s how drugs get developed. Drug companies are not villains—they are needed by society and do a lot of good ongoing. But they are businesses that face severe investor pressure if they don’t meet their targets. Heads will roll. Frankly, any underlying challenges associate more with a market-based system that potentially places rising stock value over all other values. This is a far more deep-rooted challenge, and opportunity, than just a handful of drug companies looking out for their self-interest.  

Regardless, one should be free to question in an open, democratic society.  And given the mounting-yet-still-unheeded data indicating efficacy evidence for ivermectin, is it conceivable that it is not being recommended because there is very little money in it? While we concede that a panel such as this logically needs drug industry expertise—there is nothing wrong with that, and in fact, it’s a good thing—we also wonder whether a particular lens, worldview or paradigm precluded leaders from seeing a different set of facts unfolding.