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TV programme raises fresh allegations about MMR doctor

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.329.7477.1254-a (Published 25 November 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:1254
  1. Jackson Trevor
  1. BMJ

    The gastroenterologist Dr Andrew Wakefield had filed patent applications for a measles vaccine and a cure for autism nine months before his study on childhood chronic enterocolitis and autism was published in the Lancet in 1998, a television documentary claimed last week. Dr Wakefield's paper led to suggestions of a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism.

    Channel 4's Dispatches also included an interview with a researcher in Dr Wakefield's laboratory, Dr Nick Chadwick, who said he had not detected live measles virus in the guts or cerebrospinal fluid of any of the children examined for the Lancet study (Lancet 1998;351: 637-41).

    Freelance journalist Brian Deer, who made and presented the programme, MMR: What They Didn't Tell You, asked Dr Wakefield to comment on these claims on camera, but he declined to do so. Instead Dr Wakefield issued a statement on the internet in which he said that Mr Deer's claims were “demonstrably false” and that because there had been “no objectivity in the manner of their intended portrayal, I declined to participate in any way in the making of the… programme” (www.whale.to/a/wak33.html).

    Mr Deer, who has spent a year working on the programme, said that the first of the patent applications—which was titled “Pharmaceutical composition for treatment of IBD [inflammatory bowel disease] and RBD [regressive behavioural disorder or autism]”—was filed at the London Patent Office on 5 June 1997. The full characterisation of the patent was published 12 months later, naming “Andrew Jeremy Wakefield” as one of the inventors. This said that the “composition may be used as a measles virus vaccine and for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and regressive behavioural disorder” (http://briandeer.com/wakefield/wakefield-patents.htm).

    In February 1998, at a press conference after publication of his Lancet paper, Dr Wakefield—whose work is currently under investigation by the General Medical Council—called for single vaccines to be available to parents as an alternative to MMR.

    Commenting on the Dispatches programme, Dr Evan Harris MP, Liberal Democrat member of the House of Commons science and technology select committee, repeated his call for a government inquiry into the ethics of the research.

    (See also Reviews section, p 1293.)

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