A prominent scientist from China, who was fighting with COVID-19 failed to disclose ties to a pharmaceutical company in a paper stemming from a clinical trial. The co-author was married to the daughter of the pharmaceutical company’s founder, who sits on the firm’s board of directors.
According to NPR, Nanshan Zhong first rose to prominence during the 2003 outbreak of SARS to develop a controversial steroid treatment that cured many SARS patients but left some with debilitating bone issues. In 2020, TIME placed him on the magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He was appointed to lead China’s National Health Commission investigation at COVID-19 early last year, and in February 2020, Harvard announced that Zhong would participate in a $ 115 million effort to develop treatments for COVID-19 with scientists at University.
Last May, Zhong published results from a clinical trial that tested whether a traditional Chinese medicine could be used to treat COVID-19 patients. That paper, titled “Efficacy and safety of Lianhuaqingwen capsules, a repurposed Chinese herb, in patients with coronavirus disease 2019: A multicenter, prospective, randomized controlled trial,” was published in Phytomedicine. According to the Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, it has been cited 67 times and has only two authors: China’s Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health, and Jen-Hua Jia of Hebei Yiling Hospital.
None of the authors in the paper revealed any conflict of interest. However, last year an anonymous whistleblower found financially binding documents to Zhong and Jia to Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharmaceutical, which supplied the Lihuahuangquan capsule for the study and applied for the trial and sponsored, according to China’s clinical trial database did. That description was not disclosed in the paper.
According to the South China Morning Post, Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharma was founded in 1992 by a billionaire Yi-ling Wu, with whom Zhong has collaborated since 2015. The newspaper reported last October that “Wu invited Zhong to join a 460 million yuan [$ 71 million] research lab for academics by his company,” and that, “In 2016, he started suffering from lung diseases in the southern city of Guangzhou. ”
According to a report in the Chinese newspaper Ta Kung Pao, Zhejiang signed a “cooperation project” agreement with Shijiazhuang Yiling Pharmaceutical in 2015 to test the antiviral properties of Linhuaqingwen’s.
The other related author, Zhenhua Jia, is married to Rui Wu, a director of the pharma company and secretary of the board of directors, according to a public stock incentive scheme that the company released in March 2013.
Jia and Rui Wu are also own a consulting company named Yiling Luobing Health Management Co., Ltd., which operates under the same parent group as the pharmaceutical company.