Freddy Homburger

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Freddy Homburger,was an early tobacco industry researcher into smoking and health problems who later claimed that the Council for Tobacco Research tried to prevent him from publishing his research) Note that 1075 documents in the archives spell the name "Homberger" while 14,911 spell it with a 'U'. In the legal dispositions and cross examinations he is 'Frederick" but elsewhere, 'Freddie' (80) or 'Freddy' (3018).

Dr Frederick Homburger M.D was therefore almost universally called Freddy. He had been a pathologist at Yale and Tufts University (Boston) and also worked with the Sloan Kettering institute on cancer studies. He established his own Bio-Research Consultants in Cambridge, Massachusetts in early 1964 and began seeking a CTR grant. He had an animal house for hamster research, and over the years he received $1 million in grants from the tobacco industry. Since mice were nose-breathers they were unsuited to smoke-inhalation research because they had evolved to filter out dust etc. before it reached the lungs, However he found that hamsters, which wee capable of mouth-breathing smoke, were susceptible to cancer of the respiratory tract.

In a later interview he talked candidly about his dealings with the tobacco industry. These notes were in the archives which suggests that the industry had sent someone to do the interview. .[2] The report notes that ...

"... when half of his hamsters came down with cancer, the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR) insisted on redesigning the smoking machine The tobacco industry wanted them to change the whole works: Freddy's (smoking) machine did too much damage. Their ultimate judgement (was that) his hamsters did not get a clear-cut cases of cancer, and it was not the invasive sort, at any rate. RJ Rynolds did a study of the smoking machines and found no real difficulties, but they said they couldn't use their findings."

Homberger noted that both himself and other researchers were "rather naive" at that time.

The Bio-Research Consultants laboratory continued to do both mouse skin-painting experiments, and its specialist hamster smoke inhallation tests. Homburger was threatened in numerous ways, and eventually his funding was cut off.

At that time the German tobacco industry has a close relationship with their politicians, and so were much more open and honest in their findings. Homberger sent all remaining stock of hamsters to Dontenwill's laboratory in Germany called the Verband for them to complete the series of studies. But not long after Dontenwill's lab was suddenly closed, and he was paid each year not to talk about it. The Verband staff killed all the hamsters. [1] {query this claim}

Documents & Timeline

1964 Feb 20 Offical opening of BioReseach Consultants laboratory in Cambridge which can handle radio-isotope tracing of smoke particles. [3]

1966 Nov 18 Homburger was experimenting with smoke which had been 'radio-tagged' (made radioactive) so they could trace "the distribution of the smoke in the lungs using a scintillation counter." [4]

1967 Mar 30 Memo from Helmut Wakeham at Philip Morris to his subordinates Thomas Osdene and Robert Carpenter. He had had a conversation with biomedical researcher Freddy Homberger re the research of Walter Dontenwill ar the German Verband and Ernst Wynder at the American Health Foundation, which carried the implication that nitrosoamine was a cancer initiator in hamsters..

Wakeham mentions that Bio-Research are doing chronic exposure tests with hamsters - 5 sec/minute bursts of smoke 3 times a day (sponsored by CTR) He remarks that "This sounds more and more like what we are doing at INBIFO" [5]

[Philip Morris had secretly purchased the German research laboratory INBIFO to carry out animal and other research into smoking and health that they couldn't afford to do in the US (in case of court discovery of documents proving they knew about the harm from cigarettes).
Walter Dontenwill was head of the German tobacco manufacturing industry's Verband der Cigarettenindustrie Research Institute (aka Verband), while Ernst Wynder ran the American Health Foundation and was convinced he could produce a 'safer cigarette' ]

1970 May 25 This Cancer Program [Confidential] report found in RJ Reynolds files deals mainly with a new 'virus theory of cancer' being promoted by Dr Robert J Huebner and his colleagues. The tobacco industry was very keen to foster this line of research. They had contracted a study by Microbiological Associates with tests which were to include different bioassay techniques:

  • cells in culture (petri dishes)
  • whole animal skin painting
  • whole animal inhalation experiments.
[Note: Since these all used mice, hamsters, or other lab animals, the Hockett dictum became a problem. Which is why this kind of research was contracted under a secrecy clause.]

The document mentions one of their favourite early researchers, Freddy Homburger who was blowing smoke onto the skins of mice and hadn't detected any skin tumors:

While this experimental plan still uses the "wrong tissue of the wrong animal" it does employ smoke in conditions encountered in normal human smoking and should provide further insight into the significance or non-significance of the widely prevalent mouse-skin painting with stale "tars" in a solvent, as a bioassay system.

(Since he had not generated any tumors, they planned to extend Homberger's experiments with hamsters.) [6]

[Note: this was at a period when genuine research was being conducted by the tobacco industry. Homberger later found cancer during inhalation experiments with hamsters and he published, despite threats from the industry.]

1973 March Homburger is now dealing with a hostile CTR which wants to check his reports before he attends and speaks at conferences. They call this "unauthorized disclosures of hitherto secret material". See latter pages of this Chronology. A copy of clauses of his contract show that the CTR had a legal right to everything he discovered ... that he must keep information secret and confidential ...etc. etc. All his smoking machines, etc. belonged to the CTR also. The split is now very apparent, yet a relationship of sorts continues for some years. [7]

1974 June 26 The Proceedings of a Batelle/NCI symposium shows both Freddy Homburger's group at Bio-Research Consultants, and the Verband lab of Walter Dontenwill have induced cancerous changes in their hamsters through smoke inhalation. Homburgers Syrian Hamsters get for 5 days a week, 8 puffs of tobacco smoke, each puff of 2 seconds duration, every minute, followed by a longer period of fresh air (mimicking smoking patterns) These 102 smoking hamsters were compared for illness to 60 controls which didn't get smoke. By 80 to 90 weeks there were "microinvasive carcinomas in the more susceptible of the line.

He reports that this confirms and extends the observations of Dontenwill on laryngeal changes. The research was done under a CTR grant. [8] [9]

1975 Jan Homberger was still promoting his fundings and those of Dontenwill (from December 1973). He is now making unambiguous claims of having established smoking causes cancer in the larynx of his hamsters. Dontenwill had found this in 10% of his experimental animals and Homberger found it in higher rates in a line of more susceptible hamsters, and slightly lower in a line less susceptible. He summed up the findings:

"It may thus be stated with some confidence that cigarette smoke is one of the causes of laryngeal cancer, although it is also evident that other factors, such as heredity modify the susceptibility of the hamster larynx to cigarette smoke."[10]

1975 The CTR Annual Report had a long piece on Animal Studies Involving Inhalation Exposures. It dealt extensively with a smoke inhalation experiment with mice (known to be a bad model for this kind of research) They also looked to see if their mice were susceptible to traces of cadmium in the smoke. They weren't. They then reported on Studies of Ozone and Influenza Infections and lung damage.

It then carried two of Homburgers abstracts: one on hamster smoking and the DNA changes noted, and another showing that there was an enormous range of susceptibility in hamster strains. He seems to have rewritten these to reduce the impact of his conclusions. [11]

1975 Oct 17 Robert Hockett of the CTR has written to Arthur Furst at the Uni of San Francisco who designed the animal 'smoking machines;. They are now interested in inhalation studies on mice -- knowing them to be virtually immune from pulmonary cancer in their limited lifetimes. He is highly critical of Homburger and his smoking machines and suggest that with this way of handing the animals his reports should not be issued. He believes that "Freddy is beginning to see this ..." Homburger is Chairman of the ASTM Subcommittee which rules on these experimental technique matters. Both Arthur Furst and Robert Hockett run task forces looking at aspects of the smoking machine problems. Furst reported back to the CTR. [12] [13]

1976 Homburger's research funding is now for feeding snuff to his hamsters. "Absence of Carcinogenic Effects of Chronic Feeding of Snuff in Inbred Syrian Hamsters" [14]

1976 Dec 13The lawyer Edwin Jacob (Jacob & Medinger) which was the law firm for RJ Reynolds, has prepared a report on all the known German research activities. He makes these points:

  • They are trying to produce a 'safe cigarette" which implies that "current cigarettes are unsafe."
  • We strenuously object to a series of projects to be undertaken by Dr Ernst Wynder due to the geographical situation. (They wanted to "exclude Wynder as a candidate for research")
  • The CTR in the US is currently sponsoring the research of Dr Arthur Furst who is studying "Intertracheal instillation" (presumable of smoke tar condensates). Jacob says this is not the same as whole fresh smoke -- and that Homburger found no "gross emphysematous lesions" and therefore this is not a valid study.
  • Many more objections in the same vein.
  • Professor Gothard Schettler is also doing a study and he is "a long-standing and out-spoken opponent of smoking and, therefore any research undertaken by him would likely be tainted by his biased viewpoint."
  • Our objections to the Wynder Projects are very strong. It deals with a comparison of American tobacco products and their health consequences on American smokers by an American researcher who is avowedly anti-tobacco. RJ Reynolds would take a very dim view of anyone supporting Dr Wynder's research. (It places) the American industry in a potentially embarrassing situation. [15]

1977 Jan 5 The American Cancer Society has knocked him back on funding because they don't have the money, but suggest he should try the National Cancer Institute. (NCI) [16]

[Note that the CTR has a copy of this correspondence.]

1977 Mar 24 Freddy Homburger has now written to the National Cancer Institute, but his contact is the notoriously corrupt Dr Gio Batta Gori who was fired not long after for collaborating with tobacco lobbyists in the Tobacco Working Group (TWG) He has recommended that they do an inhalation test using Syrian hamsters, saying that his method has been refined to a point where we obtain laryngeal cancer in 50% of the animals exposed to 100% tobacco cigarettes, and dose-response relationships with varying concentrations of tobacco in treated cigarettes."

Gori has told him that "the NCI would never undertake this type of brand-oriented study because political pressures would prevent it." Homburger says he was ending his relationship with the NCI and sending copies of his correspondence to Senators Kennedy and Edward Brooke and to the Speaker of the House O'Neill. [17] Arthur C Upton, the Director of the NCI, tries to fight the fires that Homburger has lit. [18] Copies of the Homburger/Gori letters were also sent to the tobacco industry, allowing the CTR to prepare a defence. [19]

1977 AprilWalter Dontenwill in German has abstracts of two papers published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. B&W has been asked for urgent photocopies so that the tobacco industry scientists can critique his thesis. He is using Syrian hamsters which match the findings of Freddy Homburger. [20]

1978 Aug 11 Homburger has given a newspaper interview reported with the headline "Researcher doubts safety of low-tar smoking" He makes the points that:

  • it is now 25 years since skin-painting of mice produced evidence that cigarettes could cause cancer, and that
  • lung-cancer from smoking has a 20 year latency period. [21]

1978 March 24 Homburger writes again to the National Cancer Institute reminding its director Arthur C Upton that he has offered to share his inhalation techniques with their experimenters, but he has been ...

told emphatically by Dr Gori that he could not possibly touch a method that caused cancer in animals for fear of offending southern legislators from the tobacco counntry (March 31 1977)


1978 Feb 1 Hockett is now trying to block Homburger from making another presentation without their checking and approval. [23]

1979 Oscar Auerbach, E Cuyler Hammond and Lawrence Garfinkle (American Cancer Society) have now published a series of papers (following Auerbach (1961),(1962) and Hammond (1979) They are now doing autopsies on smokers and non-smokers to look for histological bronchial problems. They find dose-related changes. [24]

1979 Nov 28 Homburger seems to be desperate to get some paid research work for his laboratories. He has resorted to suggesting to the tobacco companies that his special hamsters and his inhalation techniques could help them develop a less harmful ... in fact, safe ... cigarette. [25]

1979 Dec 14 Liggett and Myers have had their own scientists report on Homburger's' laboratory techniques. They say it is essentially the same as Dontenwill's techniques, except that he uses more susceptible hamsters. However they admit that the cancers being produced are closely related to human lung cancer. They feel it would take two years for them to develop a baseline and use this technique to develop a test for a safer cigarette. [26]

1979 Dec 18 Homburger is offering to do skin-painting tests for British American Tobacco. Costs are $8.60 per mouse per month. [27] This is in reply to their request for his strain of hamsters. [28]

1980 There is no correspondence between Homburger and the tobacco industry after this year.

1981 Nov 18 Freddy Homburger is now running Skin Painting workshops for the petroleum company scientists and conract toxicology laboratories. [29]


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  1. (R. Daynard 4/29/94/C. Weisman memo)