In the fall of 1999, the drug giant SmithKline Beecham secretly began a study to find out if its diabetes medicine, Avandia, was safer for the heart than a competing pill, Actos, made by Takeda.
Avandia’s success was crucial to SmithKline, whose labs were otherwise all but barren of new products. But the study’s results, completed that same year, were disastrous. Not only was Avandia no better than Actos, but the study also provided clear signs that it was riskier to the heart.
But instead of publishing the results, the company spent the next 11 years trying to cover them up, according to documents recently obtained by The New York Times. The company did not post the results on its Web site or submit them to federal drug regulators, as is required in most cases by law.
“This was done for the U.S. business, way under the radar,” Dr. Martin I. Freed, a SmithKline executive, wrote in an e-mail message dated March 29, 2001, about the study results that was obtained by The Times. “Per Sr. Mgmt request, these data should not see the light of day to anyone outside of GSK,” the corporate successor to SmithKline.
The heart risks from Avandia first became public in May 2007, with a study from a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic who used data the company was forced by a lawsuit to post on its own Web site. In the ensuing months, GlaxoSmithKline officials conceded that they had known of the drug’s potential heart attack risks since at least 2005.
But the latest documents demonstrate that the company had data hinting at Avandia’s extensive heart problems almost as soon as the drug was introduced in 1999, and sought intensively to keep those risks from becoming public. In one document, the company sought to quantify the lost sales that would result if Avandia’s cardiovascular safety risk “intensifies.” The cost: $600 million from 2002 to 2004 alone, the document stated.
Some combination of deregulation and tort reform should solve this problem!