Archive for July, 2010
Friday, July 30th, 2010
The last year has been a roller coaster-ride of both successes and set-backs in the fight to eliminate pay-for delay settlements. These multi-million dollar sweetheart deals have been used more and more by brand-named drug makers to get their generic competitors to agree to delay bringing affordable generics to the market.
A bill to ban these agreements was included in the House’s health care reform proposal last fall, and a similar measure was supported by the White House and considered by the Senate. Unfortunately, the Senate’s procedural and jurisdictional rules kept the measure from being included in the national health reform bill enacted in March.
Undeterred, leaders in the House then included the measure in an appropriations bill approved on July 1st. But the Senate passed one appropriations bill on July 22 without the provision. In the aftermath of this setback, consumer champion Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) and others succeeded in including this vital reform as an amendment to the FTC’s budget authorization. Kohl and others then overcame the next major hurdle yesterday, narrowly stopping drug industry lobbyist efforts to strip the measure in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Yesterday’s vote was a dramatic one. Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) introduced an amendment to remove the pay-for-delay provision from the Committee bill. When four Democrats voted with Specter to strip away the pay-for-delay provision, the AP reports that:
“Drug company lobbyists in the audience thought they had the vote won, provided they could win over every panel Republican. But Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., voted against the drug companies, helping give Kohl and Durbin [the author of the Appropriations Bill] a surprise win.”
Recent settlements shielding $9 Billion in drug spending from generic competition
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has consistently challenged these anti-competitive agreements in the courts and through testimonies before Congress, called yesterday’s vote a significant victory. FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz testified before Congress earlier this week that these types of pay-for-delay agreements, which delay the entry of generic drugs, are becoming more common (see graph). Legal decisions permitting these agreements have led to their proliferation from none in 2004 to a former high of 19 such agreements in 2009. The FTC notes that in just the first 9 months, the number of pay-for-delay settlements in fiscal year 2010 has already topped last year’s record high.
Graph: Federal Trade Commission
The FTC’s preliminary analysis of the agreement filed this fiscal year concludes that 21 pay-for-delay agreements entered into this year are protecting $9 billion in prescription drug sales from generic competition. Combined with the earlier agreements in effect, this could mean that as much as $29 billion in annual spending on drugs are improperly shielded from generic challengers. That is a significant loss of possible savings. The FTC estimates (conservatively, in our opinion) that these settlements are costing consumers and our health system at least $3.5 billion a year.
FTC has continued to raise the alarm about these settlements, and their effect upon consumers. In a press release coinciding with testimony before Congress, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz summed it up:
“That’s almost an epidemic,” Chairman Leibowitz said, “and left untreated, these types of settlements will continue to insulate more and more drugs from competition. Every single FTC Commissioner, going back through the Bush and Clinton administrations, has supported stopping these unconscionable agreements.”
On the legal front, PAL continues to support efforts to do away will these settlements. PAL and AFSCME District Council 37 filed an amicus brief in May in support of the Second Circuit’s reconsideration of the legality of these agreements in the Cipro litigation. And the PAL-member lawsuit challenging the pay-for-delay settlements concerning Provigil continues.
FTC Chairman Leibowitz testified that some of these recent events, such as the Second Circuits Cipro decision and the fact that the House has already passed a ban on these settlements, gives him “reason to believe that the tide may be turning, both in the courts and in Congress.” Yet, Chairman Leibowitz wisely cautioned that bringing about such a reform through the Courts will take time, which means that “legislation would be the most effective way to stop these deals.”
Thus the successful Senate Committee vote yesterday “means that consumers are one step closer to saving billions on their prescription drugs” according to Leibowitz. And help can’t come too soon. The bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Herb Kohl, points out why:
“The cost of brand-named drugs rose nearly ten percent last year. In contrast, the cost of generic drugs fell by nearly ten percent. At this time of spiraling health care costs, we cannot turn a blind eye to these anticompetitive backroom deals that deny consumers access to affordable generic drugs.”
We view yesterday’s decision as a crucial step to put legislation in place to end these agreements and foster consumer access to affordable generic drugs.
Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
Billion-dollar settlement of Paxil birth-defect lawsuits
Only a week after Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) agreed to pay $460 million to settle over 10,000 personal injury lawsuits related to Avandia, it was reported that GSK has agreed to pay $1 billion dollars to settle 800 cases related to birth defects caused by the GSK anti-depressant Paxil, taken by pregnant women. Both of these settlements are part of the $2.4 billion GSK has set aside to resolve pending litigation, according to corporate filings last week.
This $1 billion Paxil settlement will provide an average payout of more than $1.2 million to each family of an affected child, many of whom are left with heart defects as a result of their mother taking the drug. However, this settlement leaves more than 100 related cases still pending.
This settlement also follows a recent trial in Philadelphia, where a jury awarded a family $2.5 million for their child’s heart birth defect caused by Paxil. That lawsuit revealed internal “Glaxo documents showing executives talked about burying negative studies about Paxil’s links to birth defects and that its own scientists were alarmed by the rising number of children who had been affected by the drug in the womb.”
These recent settlements, combined with earlier ones related to allegations that Paxil caused suicide, attempted suicide, and addiction, brings GSK’s total settlements on Paxil to over $2 billion so far.
Yet GSK sales of Paxil, one of the true blockbuster drugs in the last 15 years, generated $11.7 billion in US sales between 1997 and 2006. So GSK has profited dramatically from this drug, while leaving a wide trail of shattered lives and grieving families.
Despite these settlements and the 2005 black-box warning the FDA added to the drug’s label on increased risks of suicidal thoughts among adolescents, Paxil still earned $793 in sales in 2009. It continues to be one of the more profitable drugs on the market.
Avandia study suspended, conflicts revealed
In a statement released yesterday, the FDA placed the TIDE (Thiazolidinedione Intervention with Vitamin D Evaluation) study comparing Avandia with its rival Actos on a “partial clinical hold.” This means that no new subjects can be enrolled, but that existing subjects can continue to participate.
This decision by the FDA is not all that surprising since, even though the FDA’s Advisory Panel voted 19-11 last week to recommend that the study continue, there was at least one member of the panel who questioned whether it was ethical to continue this study in light of the known serious cardiac risks.
Though the FDA had previously stated that they issued no conflict of interest waivers for the advisory panel hearing last week, two conflicts have since come to light. David Capuzzi, an endocrinologist on the panel, earned $3,750 last year (and $14,750 in total) as a speaker for another GSK drug, Lovaza. Though Dr. Cappuzzi denies he ever spoke about Avandia, a GSK spokesman reported that at least one of Capuzzi’s talks prior to 2008 was on Avandia. It is noteworthy that Dr. Capuzzi defended Avandia during the advisory panel hearing and voted to keep it on the market despite the fact that he claimed he rarely prescribes Avandia as he does not “like the whole class of drugs” and prefers to prescribe metformin.
Dr. Capuzzi explained his failure to disclose by saying that “the FDA doesn’t consider a different product for the same company to be a conflict of interest.” He furthermore said that he did not disclose this information to the FDA because he was never asked about it.
Pharmalot (hat-tip) reports that the FDA policy requires that panel members “report all current financial interests and those held within the previous 12 months that could be affected by the discussion and outcomes of the meeting, or that would present appearance issues.”
The FDA went on to say that they “take these allegations [against Cappuzzi] very seriously and [are] investigating the matter.” Additionally, Pharmalot reported that an FDA spokeswoman stated that “a decision [on their investigation] is expected by the end of the week and, if the agency determines there was misconduct, the matter could be referred to the HHS Office of Inspector General.”
On the flip side, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Abraham Thomas, a doctor who voted to take Avandia off the market, was a paid spokesman for Takeda, who produces Avandia’s rival drug, Actos. Dr. Thomas was a member of the Takeda Diabetes Speakers Bureau from September 2007 to September 2008 and received $5,000 for giving two presentations. It is currently unclear if Dr. Thomas will be investigated by the FDA as well, since his relationship with Takeda took place over a year ago.
Ultimately, other panel members that have been interviewed do not feel that these conflicts of interests affected their decisions. One stated, “the panelists came prepared and had very strong opinions [that] won’t be easily swayed by other people’s opinions unless they’re very compelling,” but one panelist did say that the FDA “encourage[d] us to err on overdisclosing [and] to disclose anything in [our] past that may have relevance.” You would think that a paid relationship with the pharmaceutical company in question, or one with the drug’s major rival in its class would be relevant enough a potential conflict for someone to disclose.
Panel decision-making warrant scrutiny
Finally, in even more news to cause the public to question the reasoning methods used by the Avandia advisory panel, it was recently reported by the USA Today that at least one of the 10 advisory panel members who voted to keep Avandia on the market with tight restrictions says he’d actually prefer that the FDA withdraw it. This panelist, Clifford Rosen, has publicly stated that the only reason he didn’t vote to withdraw Avandia from the market is because he was “very anxious” he’d be the only one to vote that way. Dr. Rosen, who chaired the 2007 advisory committee meeting where panelists voted 22-1 to keep Avandia on the market despite the cardiovascular risks associated with the drug, says that he and the 21 other panelists who voted to keep the drug on the market did so because they did not know whether Actos may be even riskier. Despite his previous vote, Rosen has stated that he has not prescribed Avandia since this 2007 meeting.
After all this, we clearly haven’t heard the last on Avandia ….
Monday, July 19th, 2010
Following up on last week’s blog discussing the FDA hearing underway to determine the safety of the prescription diabetes drug, Avandia, the FDA advisory review panel concluded a two-day hearing last Wednesday by recommending 20 to 12 that Avandia remain on the market with label revisions and other restrictions. This deeply divided panel included 17 votes to add warnings or restrictions on the drug, and 12 votes to remove the drug from the market.
The members voting for Avandia’s removal said the drug “has no unique benefits and therefore the benefits of the drug do not outweigh the risks.” They also pointed out that Avandia’s primary competitor, Actos, is an acceptable alternative to Avandia and therefore there is no therapeutic necessity to keep Avandia on the market.
Even the use of Actos has been called into question. Harvard researchers based at the Independent Drug Information Service (www.RxFacts.org), note that “in mid-2007 the FDA added black-box warnings cautioning that both rosiglitazone (Avandia) and pioglitazone (Actos) increase the risk of congestive heart failure.” These safety concerns, “along with an increased risk of fracture, have greatly dampened enthusiasm for use of both of these drugs.”
The ultimate fate of Avandia now rests in the hands of the FDA who stated that they “took the panel’s advice seriously and that [the FDA] would consider its regulatory options.” If the proposed additional warnings and restrictions are implemented, scientist Steve Nissen, who published the first study documenting the cardiac risks of Avandia in 2007, estimates that 95 percent of Avandia’s use will end. “Effectively, this drug is gone.”
Interestingly, the committee also recommended by a vote of 19-11 that the trial currently underway comparing Avandia to its rival Actos be continued, though at least one member questioned the ethics of this, given the potential risks.
Litigation yields access to studies, helps expose risks
Litigation plays a valuable role in exposing industry schemes to withhold safety data. For instance, GSK’s earlier suppression of studies showing risks associated with the drug Paxil lead to litigation and settlements that required GSK to post information on-line about all their clinical trials. It was this posted information that Nissen and fellow researcher Kathy Wolski of the Cleveland Clinic used to perform their 2007 analysis of over 40 studies that showed that Avandia raised the risk of heart attack, stroke and death in comparison to Actos.
Another example of the benefit of litigation is seen by the PAL-member class action lawsuit concerning the drug Zyprexa whichyielded hundreds of documents, some of which revealed Eli Lilly’s own internal studies documenting the increased risks that Zyprexa posed as a treatment for dementia in elderly patients.
New evidence, studies bring risks to light
Ongoing investigations by Senator Grassley and almost a dozen new studies documenting the risks of Avandia have kept the issue alive, prompting the FDA’s ongoing review, including last week’s hearing.
One comparative effectiveness study by David Graham of the FDA was published this past June. Graham worked with researchers at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to collect records from nearly a quarter million Medicare recipients. Elderly diabetics, who used Avandia instead of its competitor, Actos, had a 68 percent increase in the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure or death. Graham stated:
“We estimate that about 48,000 excess cases of [heart attack], stroke, heart failure, or death were attributable to the use of [Avandia] rather than [Actos] from 1999-2009.”
Graham additionally stated “the RECORD study would have been dismissed as ’garbage’ if it had been used to seek the drug’s original approval.”
The question of whether the FDA will allow Avandia to remain on the market is still up in the air. Beyond that, what else can we do to stop such illegal and hazardous industry behavior—the same behavior that resulted in the Vioxx tragedy, which lead to up to 60,000 deaths? As litigation and other sources have revealed suppression of drug risks concerning Vioxx, Paxil, Celexa, Zyprexa, and many other drugs, the problem seems endemic.
To begin to address this problem, the FDA needs the resources and authority to examine all relevant clinical studies for data-tampering. Government and private consumer lawsuits must continue, including possible criminal prosecution. Finally, we should all remember that what you read on your drug label or hear in a TV ad may not be the whole story. Skepticism is warranted and further regulation is critical to all of us–we need medical care we can trust.
Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Monday’s story by New York Times reporter Gardiner Harris revealed that Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) had withheld studies showing serious risks associated with the world’s former best selling diabetes drug for 11 years.
GSK withheld results from a 1999 study that they conducted comparing Avandia to its main competitor, Actos. Rather than demonstrate that Avandia was safer, this 1999 study linked Avandia to a 43 percent increased risk of heart attacks. GSK never reported these findings to the FDA, and has spent the last 11 years trying to cover them up. One GSK executive at that time even said in email exchanges that:
“Per Sr. Mgmt request, these data should not see the light of day to anyone outside of GSK.”
In fact when one GSK official asked about whether two of the drug trials in question should be published, this same executive responded:
“Not a chance. These put Avandia in quite a negative light ….”
But the case against GSK doesn’t stop there. In addition to failing to disclose these results to FDA, there is evidence that GSK researchers excluded a dozen serious heart problems in the total tally of adverse events from their 6-year ‘RECORD’ study on Avandia released in 2007.
One FDA reviewer found a number of instances where “deaths that occurred while taking Avandia were inexplicably dropped from the final analysis.”
A former manager of the FDA’s drug safety unit, Rosemary Johann-Liang, revealed in a deposition last month that Glaxo withheld from FDA other records from 2001 showing Avandia may cause heart attacks and that Glaxo did not turn over an e- mail from researchers who concluded Avandia “strengthens the signals” of heart ailments.
Does this leaves anyone else with a feeling of déjà vu? This is Vioxx all over again. In 1999, manufacturer Merck withheld studies or other data documenting the serious cardiovascular side effects associated with Vioxx. This block-buster drug rose to $2.5 billion in annual sales before its risks were revealed in 2004. Some estimate Vioxx led to 44,000 deaths and 80,000 heart attacks. While this Vioxx scandal resulted in a record-breaking $4.8 billion dollar settlement of 26,000 personal injury claims, many feel that Merck got away with murder, or at least manslaughter. And while $4.8 billion is a lot of money even to Merck, their gross sales of Vioxx were far greater.
Another example of drug industry executives putting profits ahead of patient safety.
What’s next for Avandia? And GSK?
Today’s panel at FDA will decide whether to recommend that the drug be withdrawn from the market.
GSK has negotiated over 10,000 settlements for $460 million, according to Business Week. This seems like a small amount. Certainly other cases are bound to follow.
Monday, July 12th, 2010
A week or so ago we blogged about comments Prescription Access Litigation and others made to the FDA in support of proposed rules on presenting risk information in broadcast drug ads.
Numerous other consumer and public health groups have commented, and overall offered resounding support for these proposed regs. The Patient, Consumer and Public Health Coalition offered their support for these regulations and stressed that “the goal of DTC ads is to persuade, not to educate, and so DTC ads emphasize the benefits but not the risks of prescription drugs.”
Consumer groups, including the National Consumers League, additionally offered support for the proposed fifth requirement of dual-modality, simultaneous audio and textual presentation. Consumers Union voiced the importance of dual-modality in their comment stating that “[p]roviding an audio warning with other things happening in the background is, no matter how hard one tries, distracting” and, “[p]roviding a text warning while talking about other things is distracting;” “Providing the same, simultaneous audio and visual warning is the single best way to make a lasting impression that will be helpful to patient-consumers.”
Some consumer groups also argued that pre-review of ads should be required. Here’s Public Citizen: “to obtain approval of DTC advertising on broadcast media, a party shall present market research demonstrating that information concerning side effects, contraindications and warnings is comprehensible to the target audience.” A pharmacists group and pharmaceutical powerhouse Eli Lilly also supported the use of focus groups to review and “pre-approve” ads and to pilot test that elements (e.g. font size, color, placement) of an ad.
In addition to these shared themes, AARP also suggested that the FDA rule should specify where in the ad the “major statement” should appear” and that the major statement should not be allowed to be placed in the middle of the ad “where it can be bookended by conveyance of benefit information and is least likely to be retained by consumers.”
The two pharmacist organizations that commented–the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP)—supported the new proposed rules, as well as dual modality in ads and pre-dissemination review whether by the FDA or by consumer test groups.
Industry against dual modality, for delays
Industry was relatively quiet on these new proposed regulations: only the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and four pharmaceutical companies submitted comments so far. Though industry all stressed the public health benefits of DTCA and generally offer their support for the FDA’s action to further clarify the standards, a few common themes of opposition are apparent in all industry comments.
On the whole, industry seems very opposed to the proposed fifth standard of requiring dual modality. Sepracor argues that dual modality “could prove to complicate the presentation for consumers.” PhRMA seconded this argument and said that “dual modality might produce presentations that actually overemphasize risk information.”
Merck further stated that dual modality “does not improve consumer recall or understanding of important risks information.” Though Merck supported this argument with one 2005 study, it went on to mention the limitations of this study and none of the other industry commenters provided any support for their arguments against dual modality, and all of industry’s comments against dual modality ignore the numerous studies that have shown that the technique enhances clarity and recall of information (and which the FDA cited in its proposed rule).
The second overarching theme of the industry comments seems to be an attempt to delay the implementation of these rules. Sepracor, Merck and Eli Lilly all suggest that the FDA do further research and analysis on these standards before implementation. Sepracor argued that the rule should not be made effective until the results of FDA’s study on the impact of distraction can be published and commented on.
This argument reads largely as a delay tactic employed by Sepracor to postpone the inevitable implementation of this rule. Though there is no doubt that the FDA’s study may help them to further understand what elements of broadcast media can be distracting, there’s little debate that the impact of distraction on consumer understanding… is to distract, and that’s hardly a reason for FDA to delay implementing these rules when the public’s health is at stake.
In one of the more head-scratching unsupported assertions, Sepracor stated that up to 70 percent of the time slot of an ad is used to convey safety information for the drug. Anyone who’s ever viewed one of the numerous DTC ads currently on TV knows that this statistic has little foundation in reality.
–Emily Cutrell, Prescription Access Litigation
Thursday, July 1st, 2010
(This is the first in a two-part blog. Read tomorrow when we look at how industry and other stakeholders weighed in.)
How clear does risk information need to be in direct-to-consumer drug ads? That’s the question the FDA is getting closer to answering as stakeholders weighed in this week on the agency’s proposed rules for presenting risk in broadcast ads.
Twenty-two organizations from the PAL Coalition and other supporting groups joined PAL in submitting comments that support the agency’s new proposal to make risk information clear, conspicuous, and neutral in TV ads. The groups also suggested the FDA require that risks be quantified in ads and that the overly-scientific talk be toned down to match the comprehension of the viewer who would have the most trouble understanding the ad.
Many of the provisions in this year’s proposed rule do reinforce the handling of risk information that FDA proposed in last year’s draft guidance. But they are clearer and more concrete, and would go further than the agency’s current standard of “fair balance,” in which drugmakers are only required to present risk as clearly as they present benefits. Specifically, the proposed rules would require that ads use everyday language that is easily readable when in writing and is presented slow enough and prominent enough, whether in writing or audio form, to be easily understood by a consumer viewing the ad. The FDA also proposed a rule that would ban any distracting sounds or images in broadcast prescription drug advertisements.
A step back on why all this matters: remember that the U.S. is one of only two countries that allows drugs to be advertised on TV at all (New Zealand is the other). And it’s a relatively recent allowance—only in 1997 did the loosening of an FDA regulation about how the major statement about a drug is presented open the floodgates to the sleep butterflies, allergy bees, and PMS symptom balloons.
As was shown by the PAL cases on Vytorin-Zetia, Nexium, Vioxx and Ketek, those changes came with controversy and human costs. Rofecoxib, or Vioxx, was heavily advertised to consumers and physicians in its first year before it was pulled from market after being linked to between 35,200 to 52,800 deaths and 88,000 to 140,000 heart attacks in the US. This caused the Institute of Medicine and other experts to call for an end to DTCA for new drugs, whose side effects are often not known (or in Vioxx’s case, suppressed) until years after they appear on the market.
The link between DTCA and increased prescribing of newer, less-tested drugs has been well-documented, and policymakers, regulators and academics have all expressed concern that the FDA’s inability to regulate and oversee broadcast ads has put the public’s health at unnecessary risk.
But despite this concern and growing evidence that drug ads carry risks beyond the speed-read ones, drug companies came up short on proving public health benefits to their current ad style or offering new evidence-based ideas for presenting risk info in a clear and neutral way. We’ll take a look at what they said tomorrow. Short of all out banning DTCA, the FDA must determine the appropriate standards to best protect the public.
What else could the FDA do?
In addition to offering support to the proposed rules, PAL suggested additional steps that could further enhance the clarity of ads and thus further protect consumers. PAL urged the FDA to address the widely-held myths that the FDA approves all TV ads, and that the government only lets drugs that are “really safe” be advertised on TV, by requiring a disclaimer that “FDA has not approved this ad” for all ads that have not been pre-approved, and including the adverse event hot-line “Medwatch” number in all TV ads.
Though PAL fully supports FDA’s increased vigilance in regulating prescription drug ads, we noted in our comments that there are far more new ads being produced than there are FDA staff members to review these ads. It’s a big imbalance, and though increased funding and staffing of the FDA would help, delayed warning letters that appear long after an ad-buy—such as this one on Lunesta –will probably still happen.
To address this issue, the FDA should start using their authority to fine drug companies for ads that violate FDA regulations. Though fining will not increase the speed at which the FDA is able to review ads, it could potentially increase pharma’s compliance with these regulations and exact a price from noncompliant companies, even if the ad in question is no longer being aired.
Thanks to all those groups joining our comments:
The Alliance for Retired Americans
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
The American Medical Student Association (AMSA)
Breast Cancer Action
California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA)
The Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups
Connecticut Center for Patient Safety
Connecticut Citizen Action Group
Consumers Advancing Patient Safety (CAPS)
Health Care for All
IUOE Local 4 Funds
Long Island Health Access Monitoring Project
New England Carpenters Health Fund
National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices (NLARx)VPIRG
National Women’s Health Network
Oregon Health Action Campaign
Prescription Policy Choices
–Emily Cutrell, Prescription Access Litigation