Many people will have seen Robert H Ring of Autism Speaks endorsing the vaccine program amid the present controversy. While Ring - who is not a medical doctor - is a pharmaceutical industry insider (formerly of Wyeth and Pfizer) Autism Speaks was itself endowed at its inception by CDC Foundation board member emeritus and billionaire Bernie Marcus to the tune of $25m with the probable intention to defend the vaccine program. Marcus, creator of the DIY empire Home Depot stated in 2006, the year Autism Speaks was founded, in an interview:
“The worst thing I could imagine is to be the CEO of a pharmaceutical company today. I can’t think of an industry that has done more to alleviate suffering and improve the human condition than pharmaceuticals. Yet the industry is under a withering assault from plaintiffs’ lawyers and is depicted by some in the media as a pariah. I don’t think that Jonas Salk could have developed the polio vaccine in today’s legal environment.”
This was an either an ill-informed or disingenuous claim when litigation over vaccine damage against the manufacturer had already been made impossible for two decades following the Vaccine Injury Compensation Act and with pharmaceutical domination of the media at its financial height. The remark was also made in the immediate aftermath of the Vioxx affair in which MMR manufacturers Merck had been taken to the cleaners for its lethal painkiller. Among other things Merck had paid Lancet publisher Reed Elsevier to promote the drug in a fraudulently created academic journal and plotted to “destroy” medical critics “where they live”. In 2009 CDC director Julie Gerberding left her job to become president of Merck’s vaccine division. It seems unlikely that Marcus would have backed any enterprise that called vaccines into question.
Any statement by Autism Speaks about vaccines not causing autism should be regarded in this light. Whether or not these views are shared by Bob and Suzanne Wright, who were head-hunted by Marcus to found the charity, they have never been able to do anything about it – and the position has become more explicit since the appointment of two senior officers, pharmaceutical veterans Robert Ring and Paul Wang and the creation of an industry consortium including possibly Pfizer, Lilly, Roche, Novartis and Janssen to discover pharmaceutical treatments for autism : population screening for autism could become big business. In 2011 as Ring was transferring from Pfizer to Autism Speaks its then Science Director, Geraldine Dawson, was boasting about an alleged rate of 1 in 38 discovered Goyang City, South Korea in a pilot project although more than three-quarters of the positively screened cases had been withdrawn by their families before the study was complete.
There is no escaping the impeccable logic that creating/detecting more neurologically impaired children would benefit Autism Speaks’ business partners.
John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.