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Harvard Prof's Ties to Supplement Maker Questioned

Dec 29, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Another medical researcher is under fire for questionable financial ties.  According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, David Sinclair, a professor at Harvard Medical School sat on the scientific advisory board of supplement maker Shaklee Corp., where he helped promote a product that claimed life-extending properties.  Sinclair left his seat on the Shaklee board after the Journal raised questions about his support of the company's Vivix Cellular Anti-Aging Tonic.

The ties between medical research have come under increasing scrutiny of late.  Just last week,  prominent researcher Charles Nemeroff agreed to step down as chair of Emory University's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, position he has held since 1991, following an internal investigation into his financial ties to drug makers.  The university also said it would be restricting Nemeroff’s research and  extracurricular activities.

According to The Wall street Journal, the school's investigation found that Nemeroff failed to report to Emory more than $800,000 he received from GlaxoSmithKline for more than 250 speaking engagements from Jan. 2000 to Jan. 2006.  According to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, Emory’s investigation also found that Nemeroff received income from other drug makers, but Glaxo was by far his biggest patron.

In regards to Sinclair, the Journal reported that for six months, the Harvard researcher touted Vivix, which contains resveratrol, a compound found in red wine that may slow the aging process.  According to the report, at a conference last summer,  Sinclair told Shaklee salespeople that “over a year ago, we set out together to do this, to make a product that you could actually activate these genetic pathways that can slow down aging.”   

The Journal also reported that Sinclair appeared on  a Florida radio station with Shaklee's chief doctor to promote Vivix.  His picture also appeared on the website run by a Vivix sales rep.  That site claimed that Vivix could repair skin injuries, erase age spots, quell tremors and eliminate leg cramps, the Journal said.

According to the Journal, few makers of dietary supplements can claim such backing from a prominent medical researcher.

After the Journal report appeared, Sinclair left Shaklee's advisory board, and told the newspaper that the company had misused his name.  But the Journal says Shaklee denies that, and claims that Sinclair approved the use of his name in advertising.

Even with his resignation from Shaklee, Sinclair has not shed all of his industry ties.  According to The Wall Street Journal, Sinclair remains co-chief adviser to Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, now a division of Glaxo, which is also studying resveratrol for use as a drug. Dr. Sinclair received more than $8 million when Glaxo acquired Sirtris and the company pays him $297,000 a year as a consultant.

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