New evidence of the financial links between the makers of
the controversial MMR vaccine and experts charged with assessing
its safety has been uncovered by a Scotland on Sunday investigation.
We can reveal that the chairman of the expert group set up
by the executive to investigate the jab, the Very Reverend
Graham Forbes, is linked to one of the manufacturers of the
vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), through his church.
Another member of his committee, Professor Lawrence Weaver,
shares in GSK through an investment plan.
Four members of the group are already known to have links
to the drug companies through shares or academic funding.
Scotland on Sunday's new revelations mean six of the 18-strong
group have connections.
Last week, the group published its long-awaited report on
the MMR vaccine, and controversially recommended that Scottish
parents should not be offered single jabs as an alternative
to the triple vaccine.
Scotland on Sunday can also reveal that a Scottish-led £500,000
research programme into possible links between MMR, autism
and bowel disease is being opposed by an anonymous scientific
advisor who admits to being
paid by another manufacturer of the vaccine.
Scottish scientists fear the project - which would be the
biggest ever investigation into links between MMR and autism
- has been put at risk by the submission to the Medical Research
Council funding body. The unnamed scientist describes the
planned work as "fringe medicine".
The expert group, chaired by Forbes, was set up last August
by the Scottish executive to provide a definitive assessment
of the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. It
followed concern among parents about the jab and a slump in
the vaccination rate.
Now, official documents seen by Scotland on Sunday have revealed
that Forbes, who is Provost of St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral
in Edinburgh, has links to the controversial vaccine. Money
from the cathedral's endowment fund has been invested in GSK.
The documents also show that respected academic Professor
Lawrence Weaver, who is head of the department of child health
at Glasgow University, has links to the same drugs company.
Shares in GSK were bought on behalf of Weaver as part of
a PEP investment plan.
When Scotland on Sunday approached Forbes and Weaver, they
insisted they had declared their investments soon after the
expert group was set up. Both denied they had been influenced
by the holdings.
Further evidence connecting pharmaceutical firms to expert
advisors has emerged in a document sent to the Medical Research
Council (MRC), which has been obtained by Scotland on Sunday.
In it, an unnamed scientist, who admits receiving money for
acting as a an expert witness on behalf of MMR firm Merck,
presses the funding body not to give a grant to the pioneering
Scottish-based research project aiming to examine links between
the vaccine, autism and bowel disease.
The study, due to begin in October, will not be able to go
ahead without MRC funding.
Researchers hope to examine the theory that the measles virus
from the MMR vaccine is causing autism and bowel disorders
in children. It is the theory which first ignited the debate
over the safety of the combined measles, mumps and rubella
But in the letter to the MRC, in response to a request to
'referee' the application, the academic says: "The theory
is entirely discredited and is fringe medicine, carried out
in private laboratories, and published in fringe journals."
The scientist, who admits his link to Merck, continues: "One
therefore has to ask if it is the MRC's remit to refute fringe
notions on which there is no recent published data from the
proponents of the controversial hypothesis."
One academic involved in the planned research said the scientist's
recommendations had put the project at risk.
The academic, who asked not to be named, said: "I am
worried that this may sway the MRC and put our research at
"This person is trying their utmost to block our research
without providing any valid scientific reasons. They are saying
they do not want the project to go ahead, full stop, because
it is quack medicine. This is complete nonsense."
The study would examine the guts of 1,000 children - half
of them autistic - for the presence of the measles virus and
An MRC spokeswoman said: "Grant applications are looked
at by independent reviewers in the field. We take these comments
into account when we make a funding decision."
Bill Welsh, chairman of the campaign group Action Against
Autism, said he was alarmed by the extent of financial links
between scientific experts and the MMR firms.
He said: "Inappropriate financial links have scarred
the whole MMR debate."