News; Apr 11, 2003 CET

5 MSEK per year to Swedish researchers

Since the end of the 1950s, Swedish Match has been contributing financially to research on the effects of tobacco use. The money, which is distributed by the Swedish Medical Advisory Council, has supported a number of high-quality projects. An example is research into the link between smoking during pregnancy and sudden infant death syndrome, an area in which Swedish research is world-leading.

Although the number of smokers has declined in Sweden, approximately 20 percent of women and 17 percent of men continue to smoke. We know that they risk being affected by a number of well-known and well documented harmful effects, while other harmful effects and links are still not fully documented. More research therefore needs to be conducted in this area to extend our knowledge and do more to prevent people from becoming dependent on smoking.

These are the words of Professor H Eriksson, department head at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. He is a specialist in female sexual hormones and chairman of the Medical Advisory Council, of which he has been a member since 1990. Since the 1970s, H Eriksson has been involved in the work of ten or more foundations that are engaged in the funding of research, so he has many years of experience of assessing projects from a scientific viewpoint.

The grant awarded by the Council is announced each year. Last year some SEK 4.8 M was divided among about 30 research projects.

- In view of the relatively small number of projects that receive funding, the grant received by each individual researcher can mean a lot. SEK 300,000 is enough to pay a laboratory assistant, for example, notes H Eriksson.

Final reports on the projects are published annually, and reports also appear in various scientific journals. The research areas that receive funding include general research, such as research into various forms of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diseases of the respiratory tract, as well as projects in areas that the Council wishes to prioritize.

- Every application is always discussed impartially, but what we particularly wish to encourage now is behavioral research, since it is important to find methods of counteracting nicotine dependence, explains H Eriksson. Other areas of special interest at present are the link between smoking and hardening of the arteries, and genetic research in areas such as cancer caused by tobacco use.

In February 2002, the Board of Directors of Karolinska Institute decided to stop accepting research grants from the tobacco industry. Grants from the Medical Advisory Council are also covered by this decision.

- It's my impression that the decision was influenced by a number of factors relating to particular tobacco companies, he says. But in any case there is no question of this being contract research. We reviewed the 785 project grants registered by the Council, from 1958 to 2000, and there is not a single instance where it could be claimed that a project served the interests of the tobacco industry.

- Swedish Match has never engaged in any attempt to exert an influence; on the contrary, the company has always given us a free hand. This being so, the Karolinska Institute's decision is regrettable, since good use has been made of the money distributed to date. Now we are hoping that other faculties will adopt a more realistic view. There are other, better ways of handling the ethical issues relating to external financing than to forgo it altogether.