Two responses around XMRV: Prof Simon Wessely; Dept of Health

Two responses around XMRV: Prof Simon Wessely; Dept of Health


Two users of the Whittemore Peterson Institute Facebook site have kindly given permission for the following responses to be reproduced here, on ME agenda.

Update: The response from Professor Simon Wessely following an enquiry by a member of the public has been removed since permission for publication and the terms under which Professor Wessely’s response might be republished had not been discussed.  A copy of the response was also published by me via Co-Cure together with the response from the Department of Health.  This is also being removed.


Whittemore Peterson Institute on Facebook

Heath reported on 12 November that he wrote to the Department of Health.  The DoH response was:

Thank you for your email of 28 October to the Department of Health about xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus and chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalopathy (CFS/ME).

The Department of Health agrees with the World Health Organization’s classification of CFS/ME as a neurological condition of unknown cause. The Department also agrees that CFS/ME is a genuine and disabling illness and can have a profound effect on those living with the condition. That is why research breakthroughs such as the one outlined in your email, are so important to developing the knowledge base.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) clinical guidelines are updated as needed so that recommendations take into account important new evidence. However, as I hope you will appreciate, as NICE is an independent body, the time-frame for revising guidance and the evidence it uses are matters entirely for NICE. You may therefore wish to raise this issue directly with NICE’s Chief Executive, Andrew Dillon, at the following address:

MidCity Place
71 High Holborn
London WC1V 6NA

I think it also helpful to emphasise that NICE clinical guidelines are just that – guidelines for healthcare professionals use in conjunction with their clinical judgement and based on an individual assessment of each patient’s needs. The guideline recognises that there is no one form of treatment to suit every patient and it does not force patients into treatments they do not want.

The guideline emphasises a collaborative relationship between clinician and patient, that treatment and care should take into account personal needs and preferences, and that healthcare professionals should recognise that the person with CFS/ME is in charge of the aims of the treatment programme.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a rehabilitative approach designed to modify the way patients think and behave about their illness and so improve physical symptoms. In common with other illnesses and conditions where it has been successfully used such as chronic pain, cancer, heart disease and diabetes, its use does not imply that the cause of the illness is psychological.

The Department feels that it is not helpful to differentiate between biomedical and psychosocial treatments as, based on clinical evidence that is currently available, patients are best served by a holistic approach.

You also comment on the paucity of bio-medical research. I know that many of the Department’s stakeholders see biomedical research as the key to developing new treatments and the Department appreciates the concern about a lack of biomedical research in this area.

As you may know, the main agency through which the Government supports medical and clinical research is the Medical Research Council (MRC). The MRC is wholly independent in its choice of which research to support and it does not generally earmark funds for particular topics. It maintains a rigorous decision making process and only funds research that is likely to make a significant contribution to knowledge and is a good use of taxpayers’ money. Decisions to support proposals are taken on the grounds of scientific quality and whether the research proposed would be likely to inform the knowledge base. There is certainly no bias, and the Department knows that the MRC remains committed to funding scientific research in all aspects of CFS/ME.

The Department understands that the MRC continues to attract a small number of proposals for biomedical research. The problem is that there appears to be a shortage of good and innovative ideas within the scientific community itself. This is something the Department knows that the CFS/ME community and the MRC are aware of, and the MRC have endeavoured to address this by engaging with patient groups to encourage high quality research proposals. The MRC continues to acknowledge the importance of research into CFS/ME, and it is difficult to see what more the MRC could do without lowering the quality threshold.

I hope this reply is helpful.

Yours sincerely,

Priya Bassan
Department of Health

Related information:

Source: ME Research UK

The Medical Research Council: a case to answer?


CFS/ME projects currently funded by the MRC
(Sources: MRC website; Hansard, written answers)

•Two large clinical trials of new approaches to treating CFS/ME:
          PACE (Pacing, Activity and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: a Randomised Evaluation, £2,076,363) [Prof. PD White, Psychological Medicine, Queen Mary and Westfield College]
          FINE (Fatigue Intervention by Nurses Evaluation, £824,129) [Dr AJ Wearden, Psychological Science, Uni. of Manchester]

•A preliminary epidemiological project to test the feasibility of identifying the risk factors for persistent symptoms of fatigue and abdominal and widespread pain (£118,263) [Prof. F Creed, Psychological Medicine, University of Manchester]

•An epidemiological study to assess ethnic variations of the prevalence of a CFS-like illness, associations with potential risk factors, and coping behaviours (£162,145) [Prof. K Bhui, Cultural Psychiatry and Epidemiolgy, Queen Mary and Westfield College]

•Indirect support through a trial exploring the management of patients with persistent unexplained symptoms [Specifics unknown]

•One project was mentioned in Hansard (12th June 2008) but is not on the MRC website: General and specific risk markers and preventive factors for chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndromes (£367,000) [Dr C Clark, Centre for Psychiatry, Barts and The London School of Medicine]


Table. Unfunded applications to the MRC between 2002 and 2008

Time-frame   (number of applications)   CFS/ME subject area

2002 to 2005 (11 total) Neurophysiology of fatigue; Population-based/epidemiological studies (4 applications); Neurotransmitters and stress; Neuroimaging; Clinical and laboratory characterisation physiology/diagnosis); Dietary intervention — RCT; Facilitated self-help — RCT; Psychosocial and genetic factors in young people

2005 to 2006 (12 total) Pathophysiology, including studies regarding genetics/biomarkers, immunology and neuroimaging (7 applications); Population-based/epidemiological studies (3); Primary care study; Experimental medicine study

2006 to April 2007 (7 total) Cognitive outcomes in children — pathophysiology; Epidemiological studies — epidemiology; Biomarkers; Pathophysiology (2 applications); Molecular pathogenesis — pathophysiology; Molecular and genetic characterisation — pathophysiology; Neuroimaging — pathophysiology

May 2007 to June 2008 (3 total) Biomarkers — pathophysiology; Management and treatment — intervention; Management and treatment — observational study