[Ip-health] IP-Watch: WHO R&D Financing Committee Approved With Swiss Expert As Both Suspect and Jury

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sat Jan 22 21:12:48 PST 2011


Intellectual Property Watch
22 January 2011

WHO R&D Financing Committee Approved With Swiss Expert As Both Suspect  
and Jury
  By Catherine Saez @ 5:34 pm
World Health Organization members yesterday struck a compromise  
allowing a Swiss industry representative to sit on a committee  
selecting proposals for research and developing financing for  
neglected diseases, disregarding the fact that he is author of one of  
the proposals. Special safeguards were added to prevent undue  
influence, but questions remain for some about a conflict of interest.

The compromise was reached in the margins of the WHO Executive Board  
meeting after developed countries threatened to subject other  
committee appointees to scrutiny. Critics say the Swiss private sector  
proposal could be worth billions of dollars to developed country brand- 
name pharmaceutical companies. Developing countries, including those  
with burgeoning generics industries also have favourable and  
polarising candidates on the 21-member expert committee, though none  
considered as directly positioned to benefit from the outcome.

The rotating, 34-member WHO Executive Board is meeting from 17-25  

The Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development:  
Financing and Coordination is part of the WHO global strategy and plan  
of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property  
[pdf], which covers the years 2008-2013.

The working group’s mandate is to explore new and innovative sources  
of funding to stimulate research and development needs, with a  
particular focus on developing countries.

A predecessor working group fell prey to allegations of conflict of  
interest and lack of transparency. The last World Health Assembly in  
May 2010 approved the establishment of a new working group, and a list  
of experts drawn from a roster of names provided by regional directors  
was provided to the Executive Board members (IPW, WHO, 17 January 2010).

On the first day of this week’s Board meeting, several governments  
including Bangladesh, Brazil and Thailand raised concerns about the  
expert proposed by Switzerland, Paul Herrling, head of Novartis  
Institutes for Developing World Medical Research. Brazil also asked  
for the CVs of the short-listed candidates. The CVs of the list of  
experts are now available on the WHO website.

Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO assistant director general for innovation,  
information, evidence and research, yesterday defended the expert  
choices, saying they were based on the requirement from the WHA for  
regional representativeness, gender balance and diversity of  
expertise. She said if members agreed on the group composition, the  
WHO would ask all the experts to sign a declaration of interest which  
would be reviewed, and before each and every meeting, each member of  
the group would have to sign a declaration of interest, made public by  
the group.

Declaration of Interest, Video Link as Safeguards

Brazil, which opposed Herrling in the list, said yesterday that the  
stakes include equity in global health. It called for a briefing on  
the mechanism for conflict of interest before the World Health  
Assembly in May. Ecuador supported the Brazilian position. A Brazilian  
delegate told Intellectual Property Watch that with the safeguards of  
the declaration of interest it seemed a better approach to leave  
Herrling on the working group than either delay the constitution of  
the group or maybe see other valuable other experts challenged.

Thailand said it had no intention of removing any names from the list  
but that a focus should be placed on the declaration of interest and  
members with a conflict of interest during the working group meetings  
should retract from the session and “leave the room”. The country also  
proposed to have a video link of the working sessions for member states.

No other countries asked the floor on the subject. Kieny said WHO  
would conduct transparent management of conflict of interest and  
proposed to have a video link for public portions of the working group  

Zafar Mirza, coordinator of public health, intellectual property and  
innovation at WHO, told Intellectual Property Watch that time was very  
short and the secretariat would try to be as efficient as possible.  
According to Mirza, the first meeting of the working group should  
happen as soon as March. The nomination of the working group chair is  
left to the working group itself in its first meeting, which will be  
held in Geneva.

In-Depth Debate Focused On an Individual

Gaudens Silberschmidt, vice director of the Swiss Federal Office of  
Public Health, told Intellectual Property Watch that the Swiss  
delegation “agrees with other delegations and expects a conflict of  
interest management in the working group in a totally transparent way.”

“While the expert that Switzerland submitted comes from industry, he  
is an independent mind and one of the world experts on how research is  
conducted,” Silberschmidt said. “We knew that for some people an  
expert coming from industry could create concerns but we never tried  
to conceal the fact.”

Silberschmidt said Herrling “proposed one of the innovative financing  
project that the working group is going to discuss and it is expected  
that he will not take part of the decision making when this particular  
project is analysed but many other experts on this working groups have  
links to other projects to be studied by the working group.”

Herrling, interviewed by Intellectual Property Watch, said, “I know  
most of the people who criticized my inclusion and they are good  
friends. We have worked on aspects of the access to medicines for poor  
patients for several years. They are people who are proposing other  
types of models and they see the fact that I am elected as a problem  
since I wrote one of the proposals that will be submitted to the  
working group. This was clear from the start.”

“Critical reactions to my nomination are part of an open society and  
ultimately we all want to solve the same issue, disagreement exists  
only on the best way to achieve it,” he said.

For the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and  
Associations, “industry participation in multi-stakeholder fora where  
its scientific, technical or management expertise are relevant is  
appropriate and in the public interest. With regard to the work of the  
CEWG, industry is a particularly relevant stakeholder, as a leading  
practitioner and funder of R&D into diseases of the developing world.  
It is important that all CEWG members’ interests are transparent, so  
they can be balanced by inclusion of a range of different stakeholder  
views – something that the WHO has visibly striven to achieve in this  

Civil Society Outraged

Nine public health and development groups sent a letter on 20 January  
to the Board Chairman Mihaly Kökény and Vice-Chairman Paulo Buss to  
oppose the nomination of Herrling.

After the Board decision to accept the nomination of the list of  
experts, James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International said  
“I am quite disappointed the Obama administration was among those  
insisting that obvious and highly inappropriate conflicts of interest  
be ignored.”

For Patrick Durisch, Health Programme coordinator for the Berne  
Declaration, “both the nomination of Paul Herrling to the CEWG by  
Switzerland and its subsequent shortlisting by WHO are serious  
mistakes. This casts doubts about the real capacity of WHO to address  
the issue of conflicts of interests among its expert working groups,  
and to remain independent from corporate interests.”


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

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