NIH Kills Industry-Funded MACH15 Alcohol Study

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NIH Kills Industry-Funded MACH15 Alcohol Study

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By Working Nurse
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Following an internal investigation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have terminated the controversial Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health (MACH15) trial.  As we reported in the April 9 issue of Working Nurse, the study had drawn heavy criticism for its alcohol industry backing.

One Drink Too Many?

The NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD), which recommended killing the MACH15 trial, acknowledges that the trial asked a worthwhile question: What is the long-term health impact of having one alcoholic drink a day?

Unfortunately, the ACD concluded, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) staffers’ efforts to drum up support in the beer, wine and spirits industry “casts doubt that the scientific knowledge gained from the study would be actionable or believable.”  The ACD also alleges that some staff members “purposefully kept other key members of the NIAAA staff and the FNIH [the Federation of the National Institutes of Health] ignorant of these efforts.”

The FNIH is supposed to act as a “firewall” between financiers and researchers. Five alcohol companies — Anheuser- Busch InBev (AB InBev), Carlsberg Breweries A/S, Diageo plc, Heineken and Pernod Ricard USA LLC — eventually agreed to fund about two-thirds of the study’s $100 million cost, although AB InBev withdrew shortly before the NIH announced the study’s termination.

Pulling the Plug

In ending the trial early, NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D, declared that “the quality of NIH-supported research must always be above reproach.”  The agency’s Office of Management Assessment is investigating whether NIAAA employees violated or circumvented NIH ethics rules. Michael Siegel, M.D., MPH, a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, applauds the study’s demise, calling the MACH15 trial “scientifically fraudulent and unethical research” that failed to warn its subjects of the potential risks to their health.

MACH15 is not the only industry-sponsored alcohol research. AB InBev has separately partnered with several American universities, including Ohio State, San Diego State and USC, in a project called Smart Drinking Goals. USC withdrew in June, but the program is still ongoing. “Clearly, the alcohol companies are not in it for the science,” says Siegel. “They are in it for its public relations value.” 


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