Doctors Downplaying Drug’s Suicide Risks Attract FDA’s Scrutiny

Anna Edney, Bloomberg: September 13, 2016

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a message for doctors: The money you’re taking from pharmaceutical companies may be clouding your judgment.

Research sites where Pfizer Inc. had paid doctors at least $25,000 in speaking, consulting or other fees reported sunnier results for its smoking-cessation drug Chantix, the FDA disclosed Monday. At those sites, doctors studying the drug’s possible link to suicide risk and other behavior changes reported fewer side effects than at locations where colleagues accepted lower or no payments.

The FDA’s findings — part of an agency review of Pfizer’s proposal to drop the most severe consumer warning on the drug’s label — demonstrate the federal government’s concern about the influence of consulting and speaking fees on medical decisions. President Obama’s 2010 health law requires drug makers to report such payments for posting to a public database. The law followed years of efforts by U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, to make drugmakers publicly disclose financial ties to doctors. […]

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, part of a coalition of consumer and other groups that petitioned to keep the warning on Chantix, said the FDA staff report shows that it doesn’t trust the “integrity of the data.”

“FDA clearly seems to be saying we can’t trust the results of this study — the way it was coded, the way it was analyzed, and by the way there’s conflicts of interest,” Zuckerman said. […]

Outside experts are scheduled to meet Wednesday to advise the FDA about the necessity of the warning on Chantix. The pill’s “black box” label — the agency’s strongest — currently cites risk of “serious neuropsychiatric events” such as suicidal thoughts or behavior. Chantix generated $671 million in sales last year,according to Pfizer. […]

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