[back] Dr Vincent Marks

The Company Director: Dr Vincent Marks

by Martin Walker MA

[Chapter Twenty Eight: DIRTY  MEDICINE]

Many children are suffering from 'muesli-belt  malnutrition', which could cause stunted growth and weight loss. 1

Vincent Marks, a sixty two year old medical doctor and Professor of Biochemistry, is the perfect professor for the end of the twentieth century: an age when intellectual endeavour has been turned into private property and the greatest accolades of learning are tucked away in bank accounts. On the returns of one of his companies, Professor Marks describes his occupation as that of 'company director'. Like that of many other university scientists, his road to the top of his profession has been strewn with garlands from chemical, pharmaceutical and processed food companies.

In 1985, as a member of the British Association of Clinical Biochemists, of which he was later to become President (1989-1991),2 Marks received the Wellcome Award for Good Laboratory Practice. The prize, which consists of a cheque and a piece of engraved glass, was for 'a significant contribution to the quality of laboratory practice'. Between 1985 and 1990, the Department of Biochemistry which Marks heads at Surrey University received over half a million pounds in grants from Wellcome. 3

Marks comes from an eminent medical family, his brother John Marks being the head of the General Council of the BMA. He is one of the most influential founder members of the Campaign Against Health Fraud; his presence on MAFF and MRC committees gave him access to powerful agencies which CAHF were able to use in its attacks upon natural medicine.

At Surrey University Marks has built up the Biochemistry Department, and the Department of Nutrition, by linking up the work of his staff colleagues with lucrative grant-funding from the large food processing, chemical and pharmaceutical companies. For his own research work, Marks is adept at choosing funding bodies and has become an influential and experienced grant receiver from many powerful sources. Over the last ten years, he has received major grants from such diverse sources as the Cancer Research Campaign, the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, the Institute of Food Research at Norwich (AFRC) and the American National Institutes of Health. He has attracted to the Department staff who have a good track record of working with industry; in November 1984, for example, Dr Juliet Gray was appointed a Lecturer in the Department. 4

† See Chapter Nineteen: From the Table to the Grave.

Other large industrial concerns funding projects in the Biochemistry Department throughout the second half of the eighties were Ciba Geigy, 5 Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, 6 Unilever 7 and the Flour Milling and Baking Research Association. 8

Marks has also attracted the major grant-aiding organisations in medical research. The Cancer Research Campaign, (CRC) which unlike the Imperial Cancer Research Fund does not have its own laboratories, has throughout the eighties developed a base at Surrey University where it uses the laboratory services of the Biochemistry Department. In 1988 the CRC gave the Department in excess of £50,000 for work on two research projects. 9

In 1989, the Breast Cancer Biology Group was established within the Biochemistry Department at Surrey. The Group grew from the amalgamation of two laboratories, the Hormone Biochemistry Laboratory at Surrey and the Tissue Cell Relationships Laboratory, which had previously been a part of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratory in Lincoln's Inn Fields. The location of the new group at Surrey maximised contact with the surgical, histopathological and breast screening teams already established at the Royal Surrey Hospital, Guildford. 10 It meant also that Vincent Marks was to work closely with the two major British cancer charities.

One of Vincent Marks' closest colleagues at Surrey University, a man who has often represented the HealthWatch view on his behalf, 11 is Andrew Taylor. Taylor studies deficiencies and over-exposure to toxicity; he is a member of a number of Department of Health working groups. He works in the Robens Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, which is responsible for researching industrial, occupational and environmental health. The Robens Institute is completely dominated by chemical and pharmaceutical interests. In 1985, the Management Committee was chaired by the Research Director of ICI, Dr C. Reese, and included: the head of the Division of Toxicology and Environmental Protection at what was then the DHSS, Dr McGibbon; a BP executive; Sir Geoffrey Allen of Unilever; Sir William Paton, then Director of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine and Wellcome Trust Trustee from 1983, and Dr J. Griffin, who had been head-hunted from the top job in the Department of Health, Medicines Division, by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries, of which he became Director. 12

 A Commercially Interesting Area  

As well as being a founder member of the Campaign Against Health Fraud, Vincent Marks is an active spokesman for populist campaigns against health foods, and those who he insists make large profits from the sale of vitamins. Although he is usually presented as an independent scientist, he is himself involved in a number of private companies which depend for their survival upon private medicine and processed food companies.

During the nineteen eighties, Marks was the director of no less than eight companies,   most of which are involved in the measurement and analysis of biochemicals.

† Radio Immunoassay, Probus Biomedical, Guildhay Laboratory Services, Guildhay, Clifmar, The Food and Veterinary Laboratory Limited, Bio-Stat Diagnostics and Quatro Biosystems.

Marks set up Radio Immunoassay in 1986 with two other scientists and a publisher. The company, which was based in Cardiff and provided services for medical research laboratories, folded in 1987. Probus Biomedical was incorporated in 1986, to design and market biomedical diagnostic systems.

In 1982, Marks set up Guildhay Anti-Sera, in partnership with Surrey University, and Guildhay Laboratory Services with his wife Avril, to develop laboratory reagents and provide laboratory services. Clifmar Associates, set up in 1985, was again a joint enterprise with Surrey University, to research processes for purification and recovery by specific binding (extraction of materials by chemical separation).

Companies with which Vincent Marks has been associated have had varied success. Three of them are specifically located within the University of Surrey and their directors or share interests overlap with those of the University. One of these companies, Guildhay Anti-Sera, made a £17,500 loss in 1988, and in 1989 had to acquire a mortgage on its property in order to stay afloat.

One reason for the Guildhay losses is probably the fact that although the company is able to carry out research, it is not able to go into production. A good example of this grant-aided research work, which tends not to make a profit, is the research into monoclonal antibodies carried out by Vincent Marks under the auspices of Guildhay. In December 1987, Vincent Marks and a business partner in Guildhay Anti-Sera, Dr K. Tan of Surrey University, together with Professor R. Spier of the University's Microbiology Department , were given a Medical Research Council grant of £109,025 to investigate the production of human monoclonal antibodies to HIV.

†  Spier is also a director, with Marks, of Probus.

The research into monoclonal antibodies was carried out at Guildhay Anti-Sera and, in November 1988, the three scientists were given an additional £10,000 to complete the work. It is difficult to find any published papers on the results of this work: the author made enquiries of both the MRC and Professor Marks' colleagues, and neither were able to put their hands on any published material.

Coincidentally, the Wellcome Foundation must have been working on the same research, for in October 1990, it joined forces with the MRC to support a new Therapeutic Antibody Centre, in Cambridge. The Centre was set up to produce monoclonal antibodies, for use in different scientific and commercial circumstances, such as those of HIV antibody testing kits.

All the companies with which Marks is associated carry out biochemical measurement or testing of some kind. They fall into two groups: those which do the research tend to make a loss, while those which produce the systems based upon the research do well.

A particular example is the Probus Quatro Robotic Sample Processor, designed in 1986 by Probus Biomedical, a company incorporated in 1986 by Vincent Marks. Probus received a SMART award from the Department of Trade and Industry in its first year, and the annual returns stated a desire to trade in the United States. Despite such early promise the company failed to thrive. In 1990, another company of which Marks is a director, Quatro Biosystems, a thriving company set up within the new light industry enclave of Manchester's Old Trafford Park area, produced the Quatro Robotic Sample Processor.

The most interesting of Vincent Marks' companies, in relation to his involvement in the Campaign Against Health Fraud and the attacks upon health foods and natural medicines, is the Food and Veterinary Laboratory Ltd (F&VL). Set up in October 1986 with Vincent Marks as one of its first two directors, F&VL opened early in 1988. Clear indications that the company was close to MAFF and other government departments emerged when the laboratory was formally opened in April 1988 by Dr M.E. Knowles, then Head of the Food Science Division of MAFF.

† In 1988, a subsidiary of Sari Holding Company.

The Food and Veterinary Laboratory tests a range of foodstuffs for the large food-producing companies and MAFF. In 1988, the company worked on computer graphics for the prediction of chemical toxicity, and a major contract was pending for chemical toxicity screening. 13

During 1989, the company continued the development of an immuno-diagnostic product range and was one of the biggest suppliers of immuno-assay kits for the detection of anabolic hormone residues, which they exported to 17 countries. F&VL also produces large animal disease diagnostic kits, specifically a brucella antibody kit. 14

During 1988, a collaborative review for environmental analysis (pesticide analysis) was undertaken with manufacturers of pesticides and those responsible for their monitoring and control. It was, however, decided to stay with disease diagnostics in the short-term. 15

In the late eighties and early nineties, F&VL became involved in the analysis of chemicals used as colorants and in food packaging. This service was aimed specifically at, and carried out with, food producers. F& VL also began assessing and analysing pharmaceutical products. 16 In 1989, F&VL was asked by the Overseas Development Agency to undertake a consultancy in South Africa. 17

Despite the fact that Vincent Marks was a member of such relevant committees as the joint MAFF and DoH 'Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes', and even though F&VL appeared to have access to an expanding market, collaborating with government departments, chemical, pharmaceutical and processed food compa­nies, in 1989 the company made a loss of £275,954.18

Vincent Marks and Sugar - Sweet as a Nut  

Vincent Marks' ongoing links with the sugar industry have been well documented by both Geoffrey Cannon 19 and John Yudkin. 20 As well as being involved in the promotion of sugar, Vincent Marks is also a member of the MRC Committee on Diabetes and has written substantially about hypoglycaemia. Many doctors and research scientists who believe that sugar plays a major part in the development of diabetic illness consider that there is a conflict of interests involved in these two areas of work.

 † For other information on sugar and the MRC see Chapter Twenty Three.

Scientists who are paid retainers by food producers, or public relations firms which represent them, are left to their own devices as to how they may best pursue the interests of these companies. The Sugar Bureau publishes a number of booklets and occasional reports mainly for dieticians. The C-H-O International Dialogue on Carbohydrates is published by Advisa Medica on behalf of the Sugar Bureau. The second issue of the eight page advertising freebee, published in June 1990,21 carried a letter from Vincent Marks flattering Michael Gibney, who wrote for C-H-O in April 1990. 'If you continue to publish articles of a standard similar to that by Michael Gibney, C-H-O will become compulsive reading to anyone with an interest in nutrition.' Michael Gibney in turn was responsible for an article in the Guardian which introduced the British public to the work of the American Council Against Health Fraud, Victor Herbert and the role which the British Nutrition Foundation could play in defeating 'quackery'.

† See Chapter Nineteen : From the Table to the Grave.

Assay, Assay, Have You Heard the One About British Food?

In 1991, Vincent Marks wrote a booklet for the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) entitled Is British Food Bad For You? 22 The IEA, in conjunction with the Adam Smith Institute, was responsible for floating many Thatcherite policies. It is a free market organisation of the 'monetarist Right', funded by, amongst others, the large agro-­industrial organisations which tend to determine food policies with and for successive governments.

The choice of title for the booklet is interesting; the use of 'British' in the title immediately deflects the argument of most contemporary critics of processed food. Another less misleading title like 'Is Industrially Produced Food Bad For You?' would have engendered quite a different debate. In fact the booklet does not actually apply itself to the issue of British food, except in a couple of cases where, by implication, Marks argues against himself: on BSE for instance, 'So far the occurrence of BSE in other countries has not been reported'.

The first twelve pages comprise an assault upon those who do not share Marks' views on industrially produced foodstuffs. In these pages he manages to touch upon all the favourite targets of the Campaign Against Health Fraud. Of those who feel uncomfortable with the involvement of industrially-funded science in food production, Marks says:

These, mainly middle-class, scientifically ill-informed individuals feel more comfortable with things that are naively or exploitatively referred to as 'natural' - without understanding quite what that term means - than they are with products they perceive as being manufactured or synthetic. 23

 Such scathing and irrational attitudes have no place in a serious text, especially from someone who purports to be a scientist. Marks however seems to enjoy this kind of populist harangue. As he moves from the scientifically specific to the pathologically general, his science turns to ideology.

† Unless otherwise stated all further quotes in this chapter are taken from Is British Food Bad For You?

In its most blatant form, exploitation of the gullible is through the sale of worthless, if not actively harmful, nostrums, elixirs or medicines. These are often marketed as 'health foods' or 'Nutritional Supplements' in order to circumvent laws designed to protect the public from the sale of potentially harmful drugs and medicines. Many 'nutritional supplements' are sold at greatly inflated prices, compared with identical or frequently much purer products which are available from reputable chemical suppliers but which do not carry spurious or misleading labels. Two worthless 'food supplements' causing damage are 'organic germanium' - which was heavily promoted as an essential nutrient when it is not - and tryptophan.

†  For a discussion of the banning of L-Tryptophan and Germanium see Chapter 34 of this book, and Manders, Dean W. The Curious Continuing Ban of L-­Tryptophan and the Serotonin Connection, in Morgenthaler, John and Fowkes, Steven. Stop the F.DA. Manders draws attention to the fact that L-Tryptophan, despite having been used for years in the effective relief of depression, was banned only a few years after Prozac, a chemical anti-depressant which has a similar effect, was launched. It is estimated that by 1995 sales of Prozac will have topped $1 billion, despite repeated reports of serious, adverse side effects. Prozac is produced by Eli-Lilly.

By page seven, still continuing his invective, Marks is firing off shots into the intellectual darkness, on such grand themes as integrity and patronage.

Some of the most notorious of today's hucksters have the effrontery to accuse scientists whose work is of the highest ethical and internationally recognised standards, but of whom they disapprove, as being in the pocket of those who fund their research. The intention, is to make such workers appear unreliable and untrustworthy.

Again we are not provided with any references, so it is difficult to know to whom Marks is referring; perhaps he was thinking of Geoffrey Cannon. Although not a 'huckster', Cannon gave Marks and other 'scientists' a good drubbing in The Politics if Food. Cannon meticulously recorded sources of research funding, in order to demonstrate clearly, not that funding necessarily compromises the integrity of the researcher, but something more simple. It is his thesis that when industry pulls the purse strings of research and guides political decision making, there can be a critical vacuum created around issues of food and health.

Many of those who oppose Vincent Marks and his populist claptrap do so because in the field of health he is one of the major architects of that critical vacuum which exists around the issues of power, industrial food production and health.

In Is British Food Bad For You?, Marks outlines the tactics of the 'other side', saying that they indulge in 'character assassination' which is 'an anathema to scientists and similarly reputable people. It is, however, commonplace among gutter journalists and others who work on the basis that if you throw enough mud, some of it will stick.' It would have been interesting to see a referenced example of a reputable scientist whose character has been assassinated by a gutter journalist working for the health food lobby!

One of the often repeated assertions of those who support the paradigm of pharmaceutical health care and industrially processed food, is that their work is open to peer review: 'A scientist's work is reviewed critically by his peers, that is by people who actually understand what he says, and if it cannot withstand their criticism and be reproduced by those who are competent to do so, it will be discarded along with his reputation.' Such assertions are references to a mainly illusory world, which may have existed in the halcyon days of science but in more cynical times has crumbled. Many scientists now fail to write up their results in papers. If they do, and results are commercially viable, such papers frequently do not see the academic light of day but are passed directly to project funders. Other papers are published by 'in house' journals edited by sympathetic and like­minded people and funded by the research patrons.

Before Marks gets to British food, on his way through allergy and vitamin and mineral supplements, he even finds space to tilt at one of Caroline Richmond's favourite subjects, 'chronic fatigue syndrome' or ME. His unreferenced and anecdotal comments about vitamins could have been culled from one of a thousand pulp productions written by health-fraud activists. Even when talking about allergy, he manages to cram in a derogatory remark about health foods: 'A recently well­-publicised example was the near-death of someone who ate a vegeburger containing, unbeknown to him, peanuts, to which he knew he was allergic and ordinarily avoided like the plague.'

By using this example, Marks ingeniously turns the focus away from allergy and the possibility that peanuts specifically can cause anaphylactic shock, onto the apparently poor labelling practices of vegeburger producers. At the same time he makes the surreptitious point that vegeburgers can be more dangerous than hamburgers. It's all very clever, but like most propaganda once you have the key it fails to stand up to intellectual scrutiny.

The central thesis of the booklet, which defends coffee, sugar, beef and irradiated food - hardly major British products - employs commonplace arguments unsupported by references or any mention of critical research. As well as admitting that BSE has not yet been reported in any other country, Marks suggests that British poultry farming practices which produce salmonella are long overdue for review. He puts forward the idea of poultry screening, by 'modern analytical methods, for carriers of the infection'. Just exactly the kind of work which the Food and Veterinary Laboratory Limited was set up to take on.

1. Marks, Vincent. Quoted in The Times, 2 June 1986. 
2. British Association of Clinical Biochemists. Annual Report, 1990. 
University of Surrey Gazette, 1985 -1990. 
4. Ibid., November 1986. 
5. Ibid., February 1986. 
6. Ibid., July 1987. 
7. Ibid., July 1990. 
8. Ibid., March 1989/November 1990. 
9. Cancer Research Campaign. Annual Report, 1987, with Handbook, 1988. 
10. Cancer Research Campaign. Annual Report, 1988, with Handbook, 1989. 
11. Food and Drink Programme. BBC 2, 15 January 1991. 
University of Surrey Gazette, 18 July 1985. 
13. The Food and Veterinary Laboratory Limited. Directors' Reports, 1987/1988/1989. 
14. Ibid.  
15. Ibid. 
16. Ibid. 
17. Ibid. 
18. Ibid. 
19. Cannon, Geoffrey. The politics of food. London: Century Hutchinson, 1987. 
20. Yudkin, John. Pure, white and deadly. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988. 
21. C-H-O, June 1990. Advisa Medica on behalf of the Sugar Bureau. 
22. Marks, Vincent. Is British food bad for you? London: Health and Welfare Unit, Institute of Economic Affairs, 1991. 23. Ibid. 

23. Ibid