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Tobacco Company Acquires Rights to Lung Cancer Vaccines

Japan Tobacco's acquisition, the international concern's second in three years, has infuriated health organizations

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Treating smoking's nasty side effects

If smoking causes cancer, then Japan Tobacco wants to make sure it helps out with the cure.

The international tobacco concern, manufacturer of brands like Camel and Winston, acquired the licenses two lung cancer vaccines from two American biotechnology firms, according to the British non-profit, GeneWatch. The acquisition has thrown health organizations and anti-tobacco groups into a fit.

"Even for the tobacco industry, the attempt to integrate smoking and sickness marks a new frontier in cynicism and greed," said Clive Bates, Director of Action on Smoking and Health. "While they’re frantically promoting the image of a carefree smoking lifestyle, they’re planning to cash in on a dreadful illness."

The acquisition of exclusive rights to the two vaccines, was the second by Japan Tobacco in three years. In June 1999, the Seattle-based Corixa Corporation granted Japan Tobacco a 3-year exclusive license to develop and sell vaccine products aimed at preventing or treating lung cancer in North America, according to GeneWatch.

Company spokesman Roy Tsuji said Japan Tobacco buying up the rights to lung cancer vaccines just part of their strategy.

"Our aim is to develop medical solutions for a range of disease that afflict people," Tsuji said, pointing to their eight-year Central Pharmaceutical Research Institute as evidence of the philosophy.

The practice has infuriated medical ethicists who argue that many of the patients who submit their genealogical data to biotech companies like Corixa don't know that it's being sold off, according to GeneWatch.

"Giving a tobacco company exclusive rights to lung cancer vaccines is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank," said Dr, Helen Wallace, the group's deputy director.

The move is just one of many recent ones by tobacco companies to change their public image in light of numerous class-action suits in the United States. The US firm Brown & Williamson, which manufactures Lucky Strikes, recently announced the development of cigarettes that are supposed to have only small amounts of cancer-causing chemicals.