The Nobel Prize Committee is facing investigation of bribery and corruption after allegedly taking huge payments from a pharmaceutical company that directly benefits from the work of this year's Nobel Prize winner in medicine.
The astonishing scandal, being reported in the European trade press and conspicuously absent from Sweden's major daily newspapers, surfaced just days before the internationally renowned awards were presented in Stockholm on Wednesday.
According to Swedish trade journal Dagens Medicin, Swedish state prosecutors are checking into allegations that two Nobel-affiliated corporations -- Nobel Media and Nobel Webb -- may have received "many millions" of dollars from Swedish-American pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca, which holds patents on and collects royalties for both human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines currently available -- Gardasil in the U.S. and Cerverix in Europe -- stands to benefit financially from the 2008 Nobel Prize given to German Harald zur Hauser for his discovery of HPV and its link to cervical cancer.
Medical industry analyst Johan Unnerus, told the German newspaper Heidenheimer Zeitung on Friday that Astra is expected to earn between $30 million and $50 million annually from its financial interest in the two market-leading vaccines.
The trade journal reported Friday that the Nobel Committee's financial connections with AstraZeneca "may be criminal."
Swedish state Prosecutor Christer van der Kwast told Dagens Medicin that he had ordered a full criminal investigation, on the eve of Wednesday’s lavish award ceremonies, adding dryly: "It was not my intention to ruin the party."
Swedish state radio Sveriges Radio reported more conflicts of interest this week, involving at least two Nobel Committee academics: Professor of metabolic research Bo Angelin, from the Karolinska Institute, is both on the board of AstraZeneca, and a voting member of the Nobel Committee. Another highly placed academic in the Nobel Committee, Bertil Fredholm, was revealed to have been a paid consultant for AstraZeneca through 2006.
"When these kinds of revelations come to light, of course it becomes our highest priority to investigate," van der Kvast said. "The criminal charges that may become formalized are bribery and corruption."
Zhou Yi, an AstraZeneca spokeswoman in London tells Newsmax that while the pharmaceutical giant does collect money from the core patents on the HPV vaccines, the company held no sway in the Nobel selection.
"Our connection is to two Nobel subcommittees, Nobel Media and Nobel Webb," Yi says, "Our sponsorship is strictly about helping get the word out globally on the benefits of medical breakthroughs. These two committees are not the groups responsible for choosing a Nobel Prize winner."
Yi did confirm that AstraZeneca board member Bo Angelin also sits on the committee that votes on Nobel candidates, but said it was still unclear whether he had actually voted for Hauser.
"I can tell you AstraZeneca, as a company, did not influence this award in any way," Yi says.
Meanwhile, controversy also centered on the other half of the Nobel prize in medicine, given to Dr. Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute, for his claims of the 1983 discovery of what was termed the “AIDS virus.”
International medical ethics watchdog group The Semmelweis Society has issued a press release drawing attention to numerous breaches of scientific standards that undermine the notion that an "AIDS virus" was ever discovered, or proven to be causative.
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