The integrity of the Nobel prize was called into question recently after it emerged that a member of the jury also sat on the board of a pharmaceuticals giant that benefited from the award of this year’s prize for medicine. From the Times Online.

Prosecutors were studying whether AstraZeneca, the London-based multi-national pharmaceutical company, could have exerted undue influence on the award.

The joint winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine, Harald zur Hausen, was recognised for his work on the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer. AstraZeneca has a stake in two lucrative vaccines against the virus.

Two senior figures in the process that chose Mr zur Hausen have strong links with the pharmaceutical company, which has also recently begun sponsoring the Nobel website and pro-motional subsidiary. The company strongly denies any wrongdoing.

It is not the only question mark hanging over the probity of the Stockholm-based foundation. The Swedish prosecutor yesterday opened a parallel investigation into bribery allegations after several members of Nobel committees admitted enjoying expenses-paid trips to China to tell officials how candidates are selected for prizes.

Other members of the Nobel Foundation are said to be gravely concerned that the reputation of an organisation that honours the highest achievements in human endeavour is under threat from companies and nations hungry for Nobel glory.

Questions began to be asked about AstraZeneca’s role after it agreed to sponsor Nobel Media and Nobel Web. Neither the company nor the foundation will say how much the contracts are worth, although they are estimated to run into hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next three years.

Further concerns were raised by Swedish radio, which revealed that Bertil Fredholm, the chairman of the five-strong committee that assesses Nobel candidates, was a paid consultant for AstraZeneca in 2006. Bo Angelin, a member of the 50-strong committee that votes for the winner, also sits on the board.

Last year, AstraZeneca acquired a company that developed a key component licensed for the production of two HPV vaccines made by other companies.

Christer van der Kwast, the director of the Swedish police anticorruption unit, ordered a preliminary investigation. His actions have been dismissed by Michael Sohlman, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, who told Scientific American magazine: “How should I put this? He often appears in the media.”

Mr van der Kwast told The Times last night: “My initiative was to look into this to see if there were grounds for investigation. I have ordered the prosecutor-in-charge to look into this.”

A spokesman for AstraZeneca rejected any suggestion that its influence over the Nobel Foundation was improper. He said: “We have no influence over the prizewinners nor would we ever seek to.AstraZeneca as a company is not involved in the process of Nobel prize selection. Bo Angelin’s involvement on the Nobel committee is completely independent of his role on AstraZeneca’s board. Bertil Fredholm is a well-respected expert. He did some work for us in 2006, as we work with many people who are experts in their field. The relationship was . . . no more than that.”