By David Derbyshire
A scientist who advises the Government on swine flu is a paid director of a drugs firm making hundreds of millions of pounds from the pandemic.
Professor Sir Roy Anderson sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), a 20-strong task force drawing up the action plan for the virus.
Yet he also holds a £116,000-a-year post on the board of GlaxoSmithKline, the company selling swine flu vaccines and anti-virals to the NHS.
Sir Roy faced demands to step down yesterday amid claims that the jobs were incompatible. ‘This is a clear conflict of interest and should be of great concern to taxpayers and government officials alike,’ said Matthew Elliott of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
‘You cannot have the man in charge of medical emergencies having any financial interest in the management of those emergencies. We need someone totally unbiased to tackle this crisis.’
The Department of Health and GSK denied there was a conflict and said Sir Roy did not attend Sage meetings where vaccines and drugs were discussed.
Sir Roy was appointed to Sage to ‘provide cross-government scientific advice regarding the outbreak of swine flu’. He was one of the first UK experts to call the outbreak a pandemic.
During an interview for Radio Four’s Today programme on May 1, he praised the anti-flu drugs and called for their distribution. Listeners were not told he was paid by GSK.
The West London-based drugs giant has had to defend itself from allegations of profiteering from swine flu after posting profits of £2.1billion in the last three months.
Sales of the company’s Relenza inhaler, an alternative to Tamiflu used by pregnant women among others, are expected to top £600million. This figure could be boosted by up to £2billion once deliveries of the firm’s swine-flu vaccine begin in September.
Sir Roy, 61, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, earned £116,000 at GSK last year, at least a quarter of which he received in shares.
GSK’s share price has risen 10 per cent since May from about 1,060p to more than 1,160p.
A spokesman for GSK insisted there was no conflict of interest. ‘Professor Anderson stepped down from the government’s flu advisory group on appointment to GSK.
‘In May, he was asked to rejoin as a temporary member as the scale of the influenza pandemic became evident.
He is a world authority on the epidemiology of infectious diseases and his positions as an adviser to the government and as a member of GSK’s board are entirely appropriate.
‘These interests have been declared at all times and he has not attended any meetings related to purchase of drugs or vaccine for either the government or GSK.’
A spokesman for Imperial College said Sir Roy’s temporarily appointment to Sage was made ‘with the full knowledge of the government departments involved in handling the pandemic’.
He added: ‘He is not a member of the drug or vaccine sub committees of the flu advisory group.’
During the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak, Sir Roy’s advice to Tony Blair led to the culling of more than 6million animals.
The previous year at Oxford University, Sir Roy was at the centre of controversy after claiming a female colleague had slept with her boss before getting a job.
He was forced to apologise and pay compensation.
A university inquiry in the wake of the scandal found that he was in breach of rules by failing to disclose his business interests as director and shareholder of International Biomedical and Health Sciences Consortium – an Oxford-based biomedical consultancy, which had awarded grants to his research centre.
Sir Roy was forced to resign, although his career soon recovered. He moved to Imperial College within months, was made the Ministry of Defence’s chief scientist and, last year, took over as Rector of Imperial College, London where he earns up to £400,000 a year.