Conflicts of interest in medicine have been much in the news lately (Joseph L. Biederman, Alan F. Schatzberg, Leo Furcht, to name a few). So it is no surprise that Deborah Kotz waves the "conflict of interest" flag at Paul Offit's criticism of Robert Sears in a blog post at US News and World Report.
The problem is, Kotz's claim of Offit's "conflict" is a lie. It's a disgrace that her editor let it through.
Kotz's blog post refers to Offit's new article, "The Problem With Dr Bob's Alternative Vaccine Schedule", published in the peer-reviewed journal, Pediatrics. In this article, Dr. Offit examines Dr. Robert Sears' The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child through the lens of the following questions
- Is Sears' thinking scientifically sound?
- Is Sears' thinking medically sound?
- Do Sears' recommendations support public health?
Offit and his co-author demonstrate that all three answers are NO!.
About those questions and answers, Kotz doesn't care. She does care about something, though:
What's worse, the lead author, Paul Offit, who heads the vaccine education center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, clearly has a conflict of interest. He's one of the patent holders of RotaTeq, a vaccine against rotavirus that's on the AAP's vaccine schedule. That means he stands to lose money if parents shun RotaTeq.
The last sentence in the paragraph is a flat lie--but one that has been repeated again and again by anti-vaccination propagandists.
I'm not a trained journalist or researcher, and I don't have access to subscription databases. I went to the United States Patent Database, and found that Dr. Offit does not, in fact, control the RotaTeq patent or its revenues. (Note: I'd never used the database before, and it took me a whopping 90 seconds to the relevant record. I am guessing that Kotz didn't even try).
Inventors: Clark; H Fred (Philadelphia, PA), Offit; Paul (Philadelphia, PA), Plotkin; Stanley A. (Doylestown, PA)
Assignee: The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia "CHOP" (Philadelphia, PA); The Winstar Institute of Anatomy and Biology "WIAB" (Philadelphia, PA)
Maybe I know more about patents, because I live in Silicon Valley and know folks who hold one or more, but it was obvious to me after the search that Offit may not see any of the future revenue. People who develop a patentable idea (in this case, the RotaTeq vaccine) are typically an employee of an enterprise. The terms of the employee's employment contract typically assigns any patentable discoveries to the enterprise (in this case, CHOP and WIAB). Depending upon the wording of the employment contract, there may or may not be a sharing of income from licensing that is done by the patent assignees.
Ms. Kotz also missed this announcement (April 24, 2008)
The Children's Hospital Foundation, the parent company of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and Royalty Pharma announced today that the Foundation has sold its worldwide royalty interest in respect of sales of RotaTeq from and after October 1, 2007, to Royalty Pharma for $182 million in cash.
Deborah Kotz owes Paul Offit an apology. I won't be holding my breath, though.
Update: TickTock, at Science-Based Parenting, has the full text of both Dr. Offit's article and Dr. Sears' "rebuttal".
Update #2: Autism News Beat gave Deborah Kotz a special Ashley Award.
Previous discussions of conflict of interest
- Respectful Insolence
- Autism News Beat
- Science-Based Medicine