When the American Heart Association issued its new cholesterol guidelines last year, I told you that many experts were shocked.
AHA had tossed those familiar cholesterol target numbers right out the window, and replaced them with a seven-question test.
One that seemed to practically guarantee you’d end up on cholesterol-lowering meds and become a Big Pharma customer for life.
We were told that the guidelines were objective — that they were even based on the latest science.
But what AHA never told us was that one of the panels’ highest ranking members had a six-figure research relationship with a billion-dollar drug giant.
One that now stands to make a fortune by driving our cholesterol levels lower and lower.
Well, if you ask me, they ought to be building a fumigation tent around the AHA headquarters by now.
The group may want us to think it gets all its money from walk-a-thons and jump-roping kids. But the fact is, AHA is taking in $15 million a year from drug, medical device and health insurance companies.
It feels like every new policy or recommendation that comes out of the place is infested with drug company cash — and it doesn’t look like these new cholesterol guidelines are any exception.
A new report from Unite Here — a labor group that tracks Big Pharma’s influence on medicine — found that the vice-chair of the cholesterol panel, Dr. Jennifer Robinson, received more than $100,000 in research grants from Eli Lilly.
That was money that AHA never disclosed — and I’ll give you one guess what that research was for.
Dr. Robinson was the “principal investigator” for a study on Lilly’s new PCSK9-inhibitor med, part of a new class of cholesterol-lowering drugs that could be worth billions.
Unite Here analysist Arthur Phillips says Robinson’s relationship with Lilly raises “serious questions about the legitimacy” of the AHA’s guidelines.
Yeah, I’ll say. But is anybody all that surprised?
I started warning you this summer how companies like Lilly were ready to pull out all the stops to get these PCSK9 drugs to market and to make sure you ended up taking them. That’s because these injectable meds — which drive your cholesterol to unheard-of lows that may be dangerous for your brain and heart — can cost up to $14,000 a year.
Now, Robinson didn’t technically begin the research until shortly after the guidelines were written. But according to Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tufts University, that hardly matters.
“A person who knows they are going to be on a guideline panel may already have in mind that they will be useful to a company,” he said.
And it doesn’t look like Lilly was the only company that had its eye on Robinson and the AHA cholesterol panel.
According to Unite Here, Robinson received numerous payments from Regeneron, which makes the FDA-approved PCSK9 drug Praluent, totaling more than $14,000 before the AHA guidelines were published. The day after the guidelines came out, the drug maker flew Robinson to Paris, and the year after that they paid her over $98,000 for consulting and “other services.”
And Unite Here found that Dr. Robert Eckel, a former AHA president, received more than $14,000 last year from Sanofi Aventis, which also makes cholesterol-lowering PCSK9 meds.
It’s just another reminder that any time one of these special interest groups — even ones that are supposed to be looking out for us — start issuing health advice, you should always follow the money.
When Unite Here did that, the organization claims it was left with one big question — Is the American Heart Association for Sale?
Maybe AHA should add that to their next cholesterol quiz.
“AHA fixes cholesterol guidelines to include payment from Lilly to panel member” October 19, 2015, Pharmalot, pharmalot.com
“American Heart Association fails to disclose $100K in Pharma-Funded Research Led by Vice Chair of Cholesterol Guideline” Arthur Phillips, Unite Here, unitehere.org