Avandia Heart Risks Buried by Drug Company: Report

TUESDAY July 13, 2010 -- The pharmacy company that makes Avandia knew more than a decade ago that the blockbuster diabetes drug caused an increased risk of heart problems but covered up the information, according to a report published Tuesday in The New York Times.

In a 1999 trial pitting Avandia against its competitor, Actos, the drug company, then known as SmithKline Beecham, found that Avandia posed a heart risk, the newspaper reported.

The Times report, based on internal company documents it obtained, said that the company did not post results of its drug trial findings on its Web site or submit them to federal regulators.

According to a March 21, 2001, e-mail message the Times obtained, Dr. Martin I. Freed, a company executive, wrote about the study results: "This was done for the U.S. business, way under the radar. Per Sr. Mgmt request, these data should not see the light of day to anyone outside of GSK." GlaxoSmith Kline is the corporate successor to SmithKline.

The safety of Avandia (rosiglitazone) comes under U.S. government scrutiny starting Tuesday, as an advisory panel of experts begins two days of hearings.

The new information released by the Times comes after new doubts surfaced last week on a key trial that helped keep Avandia on the market.

Last Friday, a medical reviewer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration posted remarks on the agency's Web site suggesting that GlaxoSmithKline's "mishandling" of trial results may have masked some cardiovascular effects of Avandia.

The official's posting was part of a safety reassessment package prepared for the FDA's advisory panel meeting.

At issue in the review posting were the results of the landmark RECORD (Rosiglitazone Evaluated for Cardiac Outcomes and Regulation of Glycemia in Diabetes) trial, which was done by Glaxo at the FDA's request. The results, announced in June of 2009, found that Avandia raised the risk of heart failure but not to a level of statistical significance. The study also concluded that the drug did not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or overall death.

In his posting, Thomas A. Marciniak, medical team leader of the division of cardiovascular and renal products at the FDA's Center for Drug Control and Evaluation, said that "RECORD was inadequately designed and conducted to provide any reassurance about the [cardiovascular] safety of rosiglitazone" and that "RECORD suggests the (sic) rosiglitazone increases the risk for [heart attacks]."

Last June, Glaxo used the trial results to tout the drug's safety.

"RECORD provides important and reassuring information about Avandia for physicians fighting diabetes," said Dr. Ellen Strahlman, Glaxo's chief medical officer, in a statement released at the time. "We believe that the results showed that Avandia is safe."

On Friday, the company, in a prepared statement, said, "The RECORD study was conducted according to good clinical practices and the data are reliable. . . RECORD demonstrated that Avandia was not associated with an overall increase in cardiovascular hospitalization or cardiovascular death compared to metformin and sulfonylureas."

But Dr. Kirk Garratt, clinical director of interventional cardiovascular research at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said Friday, "If the data from RECORD had truly been mishandled in some way, not only is it going to pretty well be the end of Avandia in the clinical world, but it's going to put GlaxoSmithKline under the magnifying glass in an important way for clinicians going forward. They'll lose credibility, and that's tough to get back."

"There is an alternative drug out there," Garratt added. "From the clinical side, it's a fortunate circumstance that we find ourselves in, since we have an alternative product that seems to have [little] risk associated with it."

Actos (pioglitazone), made by Takeda, is in the same pharmaceutical class as Avandia. Both are medications known as thiazolidinediones (TZDs), which are blood-sugar-lowering drugs. Both are used by type 2 diabetics.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on Avandia and Actos.

Posted: July 2010


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