The Pandemic Erased Boundaries Between Government and Corporate Interests. So Who Can the Public Believe?
Research firm ICON services federal agencies including FDA, while helping private clients gain FDA approval.
5 minute read
Talk about foxes guarding the henhouse. Or, maybe, one fox raising and caring for the hens, another alerting the farmer when it’s time for dinner—and a third setting the farmhouse table for a feast.
That is the highly murky and incredibly profitable world of contract research organizations (CROs), private companies that specialize in recruiting patients and running medical research trials. In the last handful of years, the US Food and Drug Administration contracted a CRO to work with the National Institutes of Health to determine how companies run some drug trials; Pfizer hired a CRO to run their COVID-19 vaccine trial; a CRO calmed fears about the safety of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after the FDA and NIH raised safety data concerns; and just a few weeks back the federal government awarded a CRO a contract to run an anthrax vaccine trial to prepare for a biological attack.
And here’s the funny thing. All this overlapping and interconnected corporate and government work involves the exact same CRO: ICON.
Shortly after the pandemic started, ICON jumped to service both companies and governments, by unveiling the “Coronavirus Observatory” to provide customer updates on vaccine trials and COVID reporting.
“The company is currently providing clinical monitoring and safety oversight on a number of COVID-19 trials for both the private and government sectors.”
When I contacted the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ask them how ICON can run clinical trials for federal agencies while also helping private companies gain federal approval, I got emailed a bunch of questions asking me to explain what my story was about.
A political appointee in HHS then called on the phone and said I should be posing questions to ICON as they were in the “best position” to explain how they create internal firewalls. I then asked what HHS does to ensure ICON’s federal work benefits taxpayers and not their private clients, and the political appointee said he would email language HHS puts in contracts to ensure research organizations like ICON protect against conflicts of interest.
He then never emailed back.