Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You Say You Want Some Revolutions? - Famed Academic Physician Dr Milton Packer's Endless Alternating Turns as Drug Company Spokesperson and FDA Advisor

Last week, we noted  we again discussed the web of conflicts of interest that is draped over medicine and health care, and seems responsible for much of our current health care dysfunction.  We have discussed examples of conflicts of interest affecting clinical research, clinical teaching, clinical care, and health care policy.  Each time I think we must have cataloged all the useful examples, a striking new one appears.

Only a few days later, yet another new variant has in fact appeared.

A New Kind of Revolving Door

A new version of the "revolving door" apparently was first noted by Public Citizen, and then reported by Ed Silverman at Pharmalot. 

The usual version of the revolving door occurs when a person transitions from a full-time job in industry to a government position which has regulatory authority or other influence over that same industry, or vica versa.  We have discussed various health care manifestations of that revolving door here.

The new version, as described by Mr Silverman, in its manifestation at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is:

the agency allows some experts who serve on its advisory panels to also make presentations at other meetings of these same panels on behalf of drug makers. By allowing some people to wear different hats within a short amount of time, the advocacy group charges the FDA creates the potential for bias to creep into the proceedings.

The Public Citizen letter to the FDA summarized the problem,

In particular, a sponsor’s use of an individual who serves, or has recently served, as a voting member of an FDA advisory committee to present its case before that member’s colleagues on the committee takes advantage of the special collegiality existing among members in order to improve a company’s chances of a favorable vote. Furthermore, such a revolving door raises concerns about the objectivity of committee members who accept such paid arrangements, with FDA’s approval, at future hearings involving the same or a rival company.

Someone Familiar Going Round and Round

The Public Citizen letter used as an example one well-known academic physician who seemed to have made many revolutions in this sort of revolving door.  As summarized in the PharmaLot post,

As an example, Public Citizen cites a meeting this past March 27 of the FDA’s Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee, which was held to review an application for a Novartis drug called serelaxin to treat acute heart failure. And Milton Packer, who chairs the department of clinical sciences at UT Southwestern, appeared as a paid speaker on behalf of Novartis.

In his opening remarks, Packer disclosed that Novartis paid for his time and travel, according to the advocacy group. But because he is also considered to be a ‘special government employee,’ which is how advisory panel members are classified, he obtained permission from the FDA to participate as a paid speaker for Novartis (see page 31 here).

However, Packer served as a temporary voting member of the same FDA advisory committee less than two months earlier. Moreover, Public Citizen says this was the sixth time, since Packer first presided as chair of this committee in 1997, that he had 'spoken on behalf of and/or served as a (presumably) paid consultant' to drug makers whose meds were being reviewed at those meetings.

The other occasions in which Packer appeared before the Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory committee involved speaking on behalf of Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2002; acting as a consultant and speaker for GlaxoSmithKline in 2003; appearing as a speaker for NitroMed in 2005; appearing as a speaker for Sanofi in 2009 and acting as a consultant on behalf of Pfizer in 2010.

In fact, the Public Citizen letter also asserted that

Dr. Packer’s presence as an FDA advisory committee member at hearings extends beyond the CRDAC, as he has also participated in at least three meetings of the Arthritis Advisory Committee and served at least once on the Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee since 2005.

We note with concern that, as with his revolving-door tenure at CRDAC, Dr. Packer has similarly worked with industry in the following capacities at non-CRDAC advisory committees while intermittently serving as a recurring member of some of these same committees:

- As a consultant to Centocor for its presentation on infliximab (Remicade) to the March 4, 2003, meeting of the Arthritis Advisory Committee;
- As an 'external expert' cited by GlaxoSmithKline at the July 30, 2007, joint meeting of the Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs and Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committees to discuss the cardiac ischemic risks of the thiazolidinedione diabetes drugs, with a focus on rosiglitazone (Avandia); and
- As a consultant to Boehringer Ingelheim for its presentation concerning the drug tiotropium (Spiriva HandiHaler), made before the November 19, 2009, meeting of the Pulmonary-Allergy Drugs Advisory Committee.


Dr Milton Packer served as a presumably paid spokesperson for six different pharmaceutical companies advocating for six different drugs at meetings of the FDA Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee.  Over roughly the same time period he served as the chair, acting chair, or voting member of that same committee in numerous instances.  Also, Dr Packer served as a presumably paid spokesperson for one of the same drug companies, and for two additional drug companies advocating for another three drugs at meetings of three other FDA advisory committees.  On various occasions he had also served as a member of these three committees.  Parenthetically, one of the drugs for which Dr Packer, a cardiologist, advocated, Avandia, to a non-cardiologic committee was subsequently pulled from the market because of concerns about excess cardiologic complications (look here). 

Dr Packer repeatedly went back and forth between roles as a paid advocate for drug companies and as a member or chair of federal advisory committees which could influence FDA decisions about the drugs for which he advocated and which were made by the companies that employed him.

It certainly seems that Public Citizen was right in that the sorts of transitions Dr Packer made constituted multiple conflicts of interest, and that his work for multiple drug companies was likely to have distorted the recommendations of the committees on which he served.  Rapid transitions between temporary committee memberships and paid advocacy positions before such committees does seem to be a new version of the revolving door, and newly discovered type of conflict of interest.  It seems that conflicts of interest now pervade every aspect of health care, with huge cumulative effects on clinical and health policy decision making.

Note also that the person whose conflicts of interest were used as examples by Public Citizen just appeared in Health Care Renewal in another capacity.  Earlier this month we discussed a study (PARADIGM - HF) of a new drug for congestive heart failure (sacubitril) which received prominent media attention.  After various people, not limited to yours truly, pointed out that this study seemed to have multiple flaws which undercut claims that the new drug would be a "game changer," the principal investigator of the study delivered a written whupping to a critic whose writing appeared prominently on a cardiology web-site .  The scathing comeback, however, seemed based on a volley of logical fallacies, including repetitive ad hominem attacks on the critic (look here).  The PARADIGM - HF Principal Investigator was none other than the same Dr Milton Packer whose revolving door cycles were discussed above.  Note that the company that sponsored, and largely ran and designed PARADIGM - HF, and which paid Dr Packer to serve as Principal Investigator, was the same Novartis for whom Dr Packer was a spokesperson in the first example above. 

We wondered whether Dr Packer's conflicts of interest contributed to confused, illogical thinking and his apparently logically fallacious response to his critic.  Now it appears that Dr Packer has been immersed much more deeply in conflicts of interest than were apparent a few days ago.  So should he be regarded mainly as a heart failure "expert," or mainly as a paid marketer and public relations man for drug companies?  Obviously, he is both, but the mixture is not so clear.  The concern is all the more important because Dr Packer has become such a prominent medical academic.

So once again, again, again,...  we call for all conflicts to be disclosed in the interests of honesty.  Beyond that, as we have been saying for years, patients' and the public's health would benefit from an aggressive effort to reduce conflicts of interest affecting clinical and health policy decision making.    


Anonymous said...

This same thing happened with a Device that harmed myself and thousands of other women called Essure. Cindy Domecus served on an FDA advisory panel from 96-2001, and then Essure was approved in 2002. Cindy was head of clinical research and regulatory affairs for the company (Conceptus Inc) that got approval and was the one who presented the device at the PMA meeting. While serving on the Panel she helped approve a thermal ablation device which, surprise surprise, later signed a co-promotion with Conceptus Inc to do Essure and ablation together. In fact the woman that presented the ablation device at the PMA meeting later left and started working at Conceptus. HOW is this allowed to happen!? IT NEEDS TO STOP!!!

Anonymous said...

Just catching up. Yes, Roy, I would love to see you get into the Essure story. It is terrible. Fortunately, I googled the whole mess as my wife considered this, when cheerfully promoted by our OB, and we ducked the bullet. I said no. My wife was not too surprised to hear, a couple years later, that The Erin Brockovic was on the job.

Dig into the Essure approval and regulatory story if you can. -Paul Rowan