Health Minister's brother refutes opposition's attacks

In Marcin Szumowski's opinion, the attacks came because his brother received "too high ratings in the polls." Paweł Supernak/PAP

Marcin Szumowski, a biotech company owner, in an interview with PAP, rebutted the political opposition's allegations of his brother, Polish Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski being in conflict of interest.

The health minister came under fire over media revelations that a biotech company owned by his brother, OncoArendi, had received PLN 140 million (EUR 31.4 million) in grants since 2015, when the current government came to power.

According to opposition MPs, the firm received preferential treatment in receiving public funds from Poland's state agency, the National Centre for Research and Development (NCRD). NCRD is supervised by the Science Ministry, and Lukasz Szumowski served in the government as a deputy science minister from November 2016, and as health minister from January 2018.

In Marcin Szumowski's opinion, the attacks came because his brother received "too high ratings in the polls."

"My brother at one point became likely the most popular member of the government and this caused media activities and provoked attempts to attack him and his family," Marcin Szumowski said.

He argued that he had been involved in the biotechnology sector for many years, long before his brother joined the government.

"Initially, after returning from the USA, I worked at the scientific institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and since 2004 I began to engage in commercial projects. In 2005-11, I co-founded my first listed company as CEO and president of the board, later joining its supervisory board. Profits from shares in this undertaking allowed me to make further investments, including in OncoArendi Therapeutics SA. These were the years 2012-2014, long before Lukasz entered the public sector," Marcin Szumowski explained.

According to him, the value of all subsidies received by his companies before 2016 was higher than after Lukasz Szumowski became deputy science minister.

"During this period, we received a total of PLN 107 million (EUR 24 million) in grants for our projects while since 2016 it was around PLN 75 million (EUR 16.8 million) in total,' he said. „These types of subsidies in biotechnology, in the development of innovative drugs, should not be surprising, but politically have become a field of speculation. We employed about 30 people at the time, and now we employ almost 90 and we are listed on the WSE (Warsaw Stock Exchange - PAP)," Marcin Szumowski added.

He also denied his brother's alleged supervision of NCRD and said that his company had received the public funding "in a transparent, open and compliant manner, as do several hundred other entities obtaining EU or national funds through the National Center for Research and Development," and "there has never been a conflict of interest situation regarding the grant."

"According to public declarations made by both ministries and my brother, he never supervised the NCRD at the Ministry of Science," Marcin Szumowski added.

He also pointed to the fact that, between 2017 and 2019, although OncoArendi Therapeutics did not receive any grants at that time it still continued its activities and managed to launch an innovative drug for clinical trials, as Poland's third company to do so.

Commenting on media reports that over the years OncoArendi has allegedly received a subsidy of some PLN 180 million (EUR 40.4 million), Marcin Szumowski explained that an institution such as the NCRD reimburses part of the private money that has to be first invested by the company itself, after detailed verification of the expenses already made.

"But all this no longer fits this political game. (...) The company conducts research into the development of new drugs in those therapeutic areas where there are no effective drugs or approved therapies. We are looking for treatment opportunities for people who have no hope today.(...) It is also easily forgotten that we work with several dozen scientists, including the authorities of Polish and world science, Marcin Szumowski said.