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The scandal revolving around drug industry donations to panel experts assessing the anti-flu drug Tamiflu, which is suspected of causing abnormal behavior in children, would not have occurred if a rule limiting such outlays had been instituted sooner, other panel members charged recently.

The health ministry delayed formulating a rule on donations from pharmaceutical companies to cover the research expenses of members of a drug-assessment panel even though the panel started discussing the matter two years ago, officials of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Monday.

“A problem like this would not have occurred if we had made rules at the time,” a panel member said.

In April, the ministry’s drug-assessment panel adopted a rule limiting donations that members can receive from a single pharmaceutical company to 5 million yen a year if they are taking part in screening and assessment processes.

The ministry officials said the panel discussed, some time between April and July 2005, setting rules to increase the transparency of drug assessment and screening processes on the suggestion of members concerned with AIDS cases caused by HIV-tainted blood products.

Panel members proposed several ideas, including limits on donations for expenses that researchers could receive from pharmaceutical companies, as well as excluding researchers who received donations from a particular company from deliberations on that firm’s drugs.

But the panel failed to work out the details and was faced with the problem that any curbs would make it inconsistent with other panels that do not have such rules, according to the officials.

“We have been considering the matter inside the ministry, but it took time as we faced many challenges,” a ministry official said.

The health ministry set the limit on donations in April after professors who were investigating potential links between Tamiflu and abnormal behavior were found to have received donations from Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., the importer of the drug.

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