SJM urged the minister to scrap the ICMR, Pfizer collaboration on an urgent basis and investigate the circumstances that led to such “an unethical” tie-up.
NEW DELHI: The partnership between Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and the New-York drug maker, Pfizer for the council’s Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) project reportedly triggered controversies citing apparent conflict of interest.
According to recent media reports, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch(SJM), the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) has written to the health minister expressing concern over the COI in context of ICMR’s AMR project. SJM has urged the minister to scrap the collaboration on an urgent basis and investigate the circumstances that led to such “an unethical” tie-up.
Medical Dialogues had earlier reported that the joint decision of New York-based drugmaker Pfizer and Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) to collaborate for the council’s Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) project seemed to have ignited criticism with allegations that there was no selection procedure by which ICMR decided to partner with Pfizer from among dozens of Indian and multinational pharma companies that manufacture antibiotics.
Keeping a close watch, critics of this collaboration pointed out that training and educating health personnel under the AMR project would grant Pfizer access to policymakers besides the doctor.
The SJM pitched regarding the use of the ICMR-AMR division as an “extension of the marketing” activities done by Pfizer for the promotion of its products.
“As part of the ICMR-Pfizer collaboration, it is proposed to expand the surveillance and stewardship efforts to the nursing homes /district hospitals,” quotes the letter. Through this project, Pfizer will “utilise the ICMR’s AMR division to influence experts, individual doctors, institutions, medical societies and the Drugs Controller General of the country,” the letter added.
SJM has also demanded that all members of the ICMR-AMR committee and others involved in the surveillance and educational activities of the network, whenever there is a direct or indirect industry involvement, must reveal the conflict of interest in the WHO COI disclosure format.
The letter forwarded by SJM, while acknowledging that industry is a vital stakeholder in the global efforts to tackle AMR, stated that industry support for AMR activities should be in the form of “unrestricted educational grant, with multiple companies providing grants to a common pool” as recommended by the WHO in its document on public-private partnerships.
Prior to this, Dr Abdul Ghafur, the technical advisory member for the National Antibiotic Policy, in a letter sent to the current DG of ICMR, Dr Balram Bhargava, had requested ICMR to halt the partnership with the pharma gaint and explore Public Private Partnership with funding to a common pool as recommended by WHO.
Presently, the SJM raises concern and states that no particular company can be selected as a partner to a specific AMR related educational or surveillance activity. This would help abolish or decrease COI.
“To eliminate or at least reduce COI (Conflicts of Interests), no single company can be selected as a partner to a specific AMR related educational or surveillance activity,” added the letter.
“Firstly, the network will be utilized by Pfizer to generate data that can preferentially help the company and to conduct post-marketing surveillance of its own products. Secondly, the company will influence the committee members to develop training programs and academic modules that favour the company products. Thirdly, The Pfizer project is planning to collaborate with various medical societies and even liaise with the Drugs Controller General of India. Pfizer will utilize ICMR AMR division to influence experts, individual doctors, institutions, medical societies and the drugs controller general of the country. Also, Pfizer could be utilizing ICMR, a reputed government body, for such funding activities, to influence a section of the medical community the company has direct marketing interest in,” stated the SJM letter cited by TOI.
SJM accentuated that there was no fund crunch for the AMR project thereby interrogating why the funds and collaboration with Pfizer were required and pointed out that no selection process had been followed to choose Pfizer for collaboration.
“Lack of transparency in the activities of the AMR division of ICMR is the reason behind the inefficient utilization of public funds. The unethical collaboration with Pfizer is also a result of this lack of transparency,” Ashwani Mahajan of SJM told the daily
However, a Pfizer spokesperson told The Week that the collaboration to combat anti-microbial resistance with ICMR was part of the company’s “Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative”. “The project is being run entirely by ICMR and governed by an advisory committee of experts drawn up by ICMR. All activities pertaining to stewardship and strengthening surveillance will be designed and implemented independently by ICMR. Pfizer will not have privileged access to any data generated through any of ICMR’s surveillance initiatives,” the spokesperson added.
Medical Dialogues had reported how the ICMR had entered into an MoU with Pfizer in 2017. Pfizer from its CSR fund had provided an initial grant of Rs 6.97 crore for the set up an AMR centre in Delhi and to enhance the surveillance project for antimicrobial resistance.