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Submission of a written request concerning “the MHLW draft statement” on the Iressa lawsuit


On October 20th 2011, Medwatcher Japan submitted a written request to the Japanese Society of Medical Oncology (JSMO), the Japan Lung Cancer Society, the Japanese Society of Hematology (JSH) and the Science Council of Japan, in relation to a problem in which the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) issued a draft statement criticizing the Courts’ settlement on the Iressa lawsuit (“the MHLW draft statement”) for the societies to release.

On January 7th 2011, the Tokyo and Osaka District Courts issued a settlement stating that the government and AstraZeneca must offer aid to victims of side effects of the cancer drug Iressa. However, the MHLW had been approaching certain academic societies behind the scenes, telling them to release opinions criticizing the settlement. The MHLW had even issued a draft statement for the societies to release.

An MHLW verification team compiled an investigative report, which stated that "no individual or academic society gave their opinions under unfair influence or pressure." However, several opinions were released very soon after the MHLW had instructed the societies concerned. Furthermore, similarities between the opinions and the MHLW draft statement (please see material below) indicate that the MHLW clearly had a considerable influence. Medwatcher Japan strongly doubts whether the opinions were given based on sufficient discussions and correct procedures.

The courts' settlement acknowledged the responsibilities of the MHLW and AstraZeneca. The release of opinions criticizing this settlement was covered widely in the media and had a huge impact on society. The MHLW did request that certain academic societies release their opinions. This shows a lack of ethics among scientists, and seriously undermines public trust in the fairness of the academic societies. Medwatcher Japan believes the societies have a responsibility to explain the facts by themselves.

Therefore, Medwatcher Japan requested that the Japanese Society of Medical Oncology (JSMO), the Japan Lung Cancer Society and the Japanese Society of Hematology investigate the situation and release the outcomes. Medwatcher Japan also requested that the following be made clear: specific details of the MHLW's instructions, steps taken by the academic societies from the moment the MHLW approached them until the release of opinions, and whether there is any conflict of interest between the academic societies, their staff and AstraZeneca.

This issue raises other serious questions such as what the relationship between the MHLW, industries and scientists should be, and how scientists should make comments in public. Therefore, Medwatcher Japan also requested that the Science Council of Japan release its views on the relationship between academic societies, the MHLW and companies, after investigating the issue and taking the details into account.