Swadeshi Jagaran Manch expresses concern over ICMR-Pfizer collaboration

Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the economic wing of the RSS has written to the health minister expressing concern over the conflict of interest in the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) collaborating with the multinational pharma company, Pfizer for a project on anti-microbial resistance (AMR). SJM urged the minister to cancel the collaboration on an urgent basis and investigate the circumstances that led to such "an unethical" tie-up.

While acknowledging that industry is an important stakeholder in the global efforts to tackle AMR, the SJM letter 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. "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 adding that Pfizer could be using the AMR division of the ICMR as an extension of its marketing arm.

TOI had reported how the ICMR had entered into an MoU with Pfizer in 2017 under which the company, from its CSR fund, would give Rs 7 crore to set up an AMR centre in Delhi and to enhance the surveillance project for antimicrobial resistance.

The 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 disclose conflict of interest in the WHO COI disclosure format.

"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," said Ashwani Mahajan of SJM. Pointing out that there was no fund crunch for the AMR project, SJM questioned why the funds and collaboration with Pfizer were required and pointed out that no selection process had been followed to choose Pfizer for collaboration.