Research chief regrets taking tobacco cash

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The Independent Online
The head of a Medical Research Council unit who accepted pounds 147,000 of tobacco money towards a research project on nicotine said yesterday that he regretted the decision and would not do it again.

But Professor Jim Edwardson, director of the MRC's Neurochemical Pathology Unit in Newcastle upon Tyne, said the pounds 49,000 a year from British American Tobacco, towards a study costing pounds 200,000 a year, had been made under an "absolutely watertight" contract which ironically provided far greater control over publication of the results than if the MRC had funded the research itself.

"We specifically have a gagging clause which says they cannot refer to the results of the research for any promotional purpose without our written permission - which of course we wouldn't give. If the work had been funded solely from MRC funds then BAT would have been free to make whatever use they wanted of the results."

None the less, Professor Edwardson said, he regretted his decision two years ago to accept the cash. He had taken it because the unit had faced an unexpected cut in pharmaceutical industry funding which raised the prospect of cuts in the study of the health effects of nicotine.

Since then, he said, "the distrust associated with money from this source has grown. Feelings about this are obviously held much more strongly ... than I had appreciated." A number of university research centres had accepted tobacco cash, he said, and the fact that there were precedents "affected my thinking at the time".

His greatest regret, he said, was that questions about the impartiality of the MRC had been raised when the council "has to be, and absolutely has to be seen to be, impartial." Professor Edwardson, like the MRC, is adamant that BAT's contribution has no bearing on the conduct of the science which the council would have funded anyway had it had the cash.

Professor Edwardson dismissed as "nonsense" the idea that the outcome of the research would be "a gift for the tobacco industry".