Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Pharma Follies

This is a wrap-up including a variety of recent stories.

GlaxoSmithKline Settles

GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to settle a lawsuit involving allegations that the company over-charged US government health care programs for the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressant paroxetine (Paxil). The company admitted no wrong-doing. The state of California alone will receive about $14 million. (See the story in San Francisco Chronicle.)

Pfizer Investigated

Pfizer Inc recently announced that it is cooperating with a federal investigation of its marketing of Lipitor [atorvastatin]. At the same time, a Teamsters Union insurance plan has sued Pfizer, charging the company, "illegally promoted Lipitor to the public and prescribing physicians by promoting the off-label use of the drug." A Pfizer spokesperson said that the law-suit has no merit. (See the AP story in the Washington Post.)

Meanwhile, Brandweek ran a lengthy investigative story about charges that Pharmacia, which merged into Pfizer, marketed its version of human growth hormone, Genotropin, for off-label uses, including slowing down the aging process. At the moment, the issue is apparently, according to Brandweek, being investigated by the US Department of Justice. The story also further elucidates the now long-running dispute between Pfizer and former Pfizer and previously former Pharmacia executive Peter Rost. Rost, who is now a blogger too, just slammed pharma CEOs as "robber barons" in a post on the Huffington Post.

Roche's Marketing of Herceptin

The Guardian (UK) ran an investigative report on how Roche has marketed trastuzumab (Herceptin) in that country. Of particular interest were the ties developed between the company and patient advocacy groups. Notably, the reporter cited a survey showing that less than a quarter of British patient advocacy groups eschewed pharmaceutical company support.

US Federal Trade Commission Subpoenas 190 Drug Companies

Per the Los Angeles Times, the US FTC is investigating anti-competitive pricing in the pharma industry, and plans to subpeona a host of drug companies. The issue is whether "pharmaceutical companies are stifling competition by releasing authorized generic copies of their own brand-name drugs to coincide with the debut of generic challengers made by rivals."

Pharma Sponsored Cost-Effectiveness Studies Biased

A systematic review of cost-effectiveness studies published in the British Medical Journal showed that those sponsored by industry were more likely to report more favorable results. [Bell CM et al. Bias in published cost effectiveness studies: systematic review. Brit Med J 2006;332:699-703.] The authors concluded that "more rigour and openness is needed in the discipline of health economics before decision makers and the public can be confident that cost-effectiveness analyses are conducted and published in an unbiased manner."

In conclusion, the whole industry seeming could use a dose of rigour and openness if physicians and the public are to have more confidence in the information they receive about the benefits and harms of its products.

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