Funding of cancer study raises questions

The Baltimore Sun

In October 2006, Dr. Claudia Henschke of Weill Cornell Medical College roiled the cancer world with a study saying that 80 percent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through widespread use of CT scans.

Small print at the end of the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, noted that it had been financed in part by a little-known charity called the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention & Treatment. But a review of tax records by The New York Times shows that the foundation was underwritten almost entirely by $3.6 million in grants from the parent company of the Liggett Group, maker of Liggett Select, Eve, Grand Prix, Quest and Pyramid cigarette brands.

The foundation got four grants from the Vector Group, Liggett's parent, between 2000 and 2003.

"In the seven years that I've been here, we have never knowingly published anything supported by" a cigarette maker, said Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, editor in chief of the medical journal.

An increasing number of universities do not accept grants from cigarette makers, and a growing awareness of the influence that companies can have over research outcomes, even when donations are at arm's length, has led nearly all medical journals and associations to demand that researchers accurately disclose financing sources.

Henschke served as the foundation's president, and her longtime collaborator, Dr. David Yankelevitz, was its secretary-treasurer. Dr. Antonio Gotto, dean of Weill Cornell, and Arthur J. Mahon, vice chairman of the school's board of overseers, were directors.

Vector issued a press release on Dec. 4, 2000, saying that it intended to give $2.4 million to Weill Cornell to fund Henschke's research. Stories in Business Week and USA Today mentioned the gift.

Paul Caminiti, a Vector spokesman, confirmed that the company donated $3.6 million to the foundation over three years. He said the company had no control or influence over the research.

Prominent researchers and journal editors, told of the foundation by the Times, said they were stunned to learn of Henschke's association with Liggett.

In an e-mail, Henschke and Yankelevitz wrote that "it seems clear that you are trying to suggest that Cornell was trying to conceal this gift, which is entirely false."

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