Tag Archives: FDA

Avandia Law Suit Brings Out the Opportunists


The lawsuits against Avandia are being prepared and opportunists are lining up for a payday. Unfortunately, everyone else will wind up a loser, and here’s why.

Avandia, one of only two available medicines with unique properties to treat diabetes, was approved in 1999. From the very first day Avandia was approved a heated debate arose whether Avandia or its sister drug, Actos, was the better drug for diabetes treatment. Both had similar abilities to lower blood sugar and both had the same downside of causing significant weight gain and fluid retention. Avandia showed a slightly worse effect on cholesterol profiles which convinced many diabetes specialists to choose Actos over Avandia. The choice between drugs has also been heavily influenced by cost considerations such as whether the drug was covered by the patient’s insurance carrier. I personally treated numerous patients with both drugs and found them about equal in all respects.

The lawsuits against Avandia will contend that the medication caused heart attack or stroke. The truth of this contention is very much in question, but the murkiness of the water doesn’t stop the lawyers from trying to take a bite out of the flesh of GSK (GlaxoSmithKline), the maker of Avandia.

Several years ago research studies seemed to indicate a small increased risk of heart attacks in users of Avandia. Ever since there has been a heated debate about whether this was a true risk or just the result of overly aggressive interpretation of the available data. There are two major analyzes on the subject of heart attack risk with Avandia. One, written by a doctor on the payroll of a competing drug company, looked at results from 14 thousand patients on Avandia and found a small increased risk of heart attack or stroke and the other study analyzed another 14 thousand Avandia users and found no such association. Under pressure from the public, in 2007 the FDA placed a strong warning on the label of Avandia regarding the possibility of the drug causing heart disease, but Avandia was permitted to remain on the market. The FDA warning was updated and upgraded in 2010. The publicity surrounding Avandia’s potential risks basically halted the use of the drug in the U.S.

Now enter the opportunists. Advertisements fill my email in-box from lawyers looking for customers who want to sue the drug manufacturer in class action law suits. Try goggling “Avandia side-effects” and you will find the first several pages of results are ads looking for lawsuit clients. In the last month I received two requests for patient records from these lawyers. Both patients had heart disease at the time they started the medication. One patient who recently died was over 80 years old, and the other who had significant heart disease and other diabetes complication to begin with, is still alive more than 7 years after treatment with Avandia. I wonder how much benefit these patients received from the medication which allowed them to survive as long as they did despite all the other problems they had related to their diabetes.

Why should you care about whether a small army of opportunists each get a few thousand dollars from the drug manufacturer and a few lawyers become millionaires? Because it is just this sort of legal action which is convincing drug makers to back away from developing other potential diabetes treatments. It takes a decade and a billion dollars to bring a new drug in front of the FDA. This doesn’t include the cost of developing drugs which fail to even make it to FDA review. Then the FDA approval process is tortuous and uncertain. Passing this hurdle, any new drug can come under attack (like Avandia) for “possible” side effects making the company vulnerable to devastating legal costs and bad publicity. It isn’t economically feasible to develop new diabetes drugs in the United States. As a result, new drug development is grinding to a halt. We will all suffer due to lack of innovation, not only for diabetes treatment but for treatment of many other dangerous diseases.

Gary Pepper, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Metabolism.com

Are New Diabetes Medications Worth the Money?


(I don’t think so, and here’s why.)

The FDA just announced its approval of linagliptin (Tradjenta), a new diabetes medication developed by Eli Lilly and Company and Boehringer Inglheim. Linagliptin is the third drug to be approved in the class of medications commonly known as gliptins (scientifically known as dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors) which block the destruction of a glucose controlling hormone, GLP-1. Januvia, developed by Merck and Company, was the first of the gliptins to be approved in 2006. Three years later in 2009, Onglyza, developed by AstraZeneca was approved while two other similar drugs were withdrawn from the approval process in the meantime.

Diabetes drugs are evaluated by the FDA for safety and for their ability to combat diabetes by lowering blood sugar. Assuming the drug being evaluated is safe then we will want to know how effectively the new medicine lowers the blood sugar. The glycohemoglobin A1c blood test represents the average blood sugar for the prior 3 months, and is the most concise way of assessing an individuals over all blood sugar control. By determining the ability of a medicine to lower the “glycoA1c” we can get a very accurate idea of the strength of the medicine for diabetes treatment. In general, physicians set a glycoA1c goal of 7% or less for their diabetic patients which equates to an average blood sugar level of 154 mg/dl or 8.6 mmol/L.

Linagliptin passed the FDA’s strigent safety review. Several large studies sponsored by the drug developers show the linagliptin lowers glycohemoglobin A1c by about 0.5. For example, if a person has a glycoA1c of 7.5 % before starting linagliptin, they can anticipate it will be 7.0% when on the medication. This translates to an average blood sugar of 169 mg/dl dropping to 154. This is virtually the same effect found with Januvia and Onglyza, the other medicines in this group.This amount of blood sugar lowering seems feeble but the benefit is even worse then that. Here’s why.

Blood tests are accurate enough for the clinical purposes of physician’s diagnosing and treating their patients. “Clinical purposes” allow for some fuzziness in measurements. Does it matter to a patient’s health if the blood sugar is 200 or 210? Not really. In general, a variation of 10% is acceptable for clinical blood tests, meaning that if a result is given as 100, a repeat measurement of the same blood sample could read between 95 and 105. For the glycohemoglobin A1c test a variation of 0.5 is common with standard laboratory techniques. For an individual on linagliptin there is virtually no way to determine if the change in glycoA1c is due to the medication or is simply within the variation of the blood test. Not very impressive is it?

How much is the average person going to pay for this unimpressive effect? I researched the retail cost of Januvia, the sister drug to linagliptin. Drugstore.com lists a price of $216 for 30 pills after a 18% saving. $7 per pill….wow!! I assume linagliptin will be priced competitively. Compare this to the price of $13 for a month’s supply of metformin, currently the most prescribed oral agent for treating diabetes. In contrast, metformin shows a 1.5% to 2% drop in glycohemoglobin A1c, more than three times that of the gliptins such as linagliptin.

I have used both Januvia and Onglyza in my medical practice. As advertised, I haven’t encountered significant side effects. Also, as advertised the effect of these medicines to lower blood sugar has been disappointing and complaints by patients about the cost has been a constant theme. At the same time my email inbox is stuffed with invitations to join online symposiums with paid experts inevitably focusing on how to ramp up my use of these drugs. The sales pitch is given in inflated marketing lingo as a “change in the treatment paradigm” for treating diabetes. Buyer beware, is my advice for the health care consumer starting a new medication for treating type 2 diabetes.

Gary Pepper, M.D.
Editor-in-Chief, metabolism.com

Endocrinologists Take a Backward Step in the Treatment of Hyperthyroidism


When I became an endocrinologist in 1981 I was truly excited about the field. At that time it seemed that the science of endocrinology was expanding rapidly and new discoveries were on the horizon particularly in regards to the way hormones effect the brain, mood and the immune system. Was I ever wrong! It’s thirty years later and none of those expectations were realized. In fact, I find that the field of endocrinology has barely budged since then and in some areas has actually lost ground.

Bringing on this round of pessimism on my part, is a recent “development” in the area of treatment for hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid). Ever since I was in training there have been two medicines, propylthiouracil (PTU) and methimazole (Tapazole), which are the mainstays of medical treatment for hyperthyroidism. Both medicines have been available since the 1940’s and show excellent efficacy and tolerability (and they are cheap!). Almost all endocrinologists I have met use these two drugs interchangeably although in pregnancy propylthyiouracil is favored due to rare birth defects in fetuses exposed to methimazole.

The “development” which I find so discouraging is the recent action by the FDA to place a very strict (black box) warning on the use of PTU due to the possible occurrence of a rare form of liver injury attributed to the drug. After almost 70 years of exemplary use, this has given rise to extensive debate in the endocrinology literature about how to restrict PTU use.

While it is true that methimazole is equally as effective as PTU to treat hyperthyroidism, I have personally seen numerous cases of fairly severe allergic reactions to methimazole. Fortunately it has been easy to continue medical treatment by simply switching to PTU. If we can’t use PTU freely then the only other options are surgical removal of the thyroid or eradication of the thyroid using radioactive iodine, neither of which is free of potentially adverse outcomes.

I have never encountered severe liver injury with PTU nor has any of the colleagues I have polled. It has to be very, very rare. This is obvious because it has taken 70 years to get around to recognizing it formally. Can we really call it progress that we now have one less simple option for treating hyperthyroidism, a common and relatively benign disease? Let me take my cynicism to the next level. I won’t be surprised if a major pharmaceutical company soon announces the development of a new drug for treating hyperthyroidism. If I’m right the new drug will add nothing of real value that wasn’t previously available but is many times more expensive then the drug it replaces.

So goes endocrinology into the new century, the stogy old lady of medicine.

Don’t Expect New Weight Loss Meds for 10 Years or More


As a culture we don’t plan for a sudden halt in scientific advancements. Our tendency is to expect progress to be rapid and continuous. My prediction is that in certain areas of medical science we are likely to see not only a halt in progress but a slipping backward. In particular, the realm of medical weight management is in complete disarray at this time. Two new drugs designed to induce weight loss have been shot down by the FDA in the last few months. The first is Qnexa, developed by Vivus Inc. Interestingly, Qnexa combines two drugs already approved for use in the U.S. One of the drugs is phentermine which is a medication used for decades as an appetite suppressant. The other is a common drug used to treat seizures with the brand name Topamax (topiramate) which also induces weight loss. The drug performed admirably in clinical trials with most participants losing over 10% of body mass. The FDA cited excessive risks of the drug in its statement of rejection. One wonders why the drugs are still being marketed separately if they are so dangerous.

The latest drug to be rejected by the FDA is Lorgess (lorcaserin), developed by Arena Pharmaceuticals. This drug, not as effective as Qnexa, produced 5% body mass loss in about half of participants in clinical trials. Lab animals showed a tendency to develop breast tumors when exposed to the medication, adding to the FDA’s decision to reject the drug application based on safety concerns.

I am a strong advocate of drug safety and regulation. On the other hand we know obesity, and with it Type 2 diabetes, is epidemic in the U.S. I regard weight loss as the “holy grail” when treating type 2 diabetes and yet it is the most difficult goal to achieve. Any drug which could assist in weight loss is highly desirable in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. Not only does blood sugar improve with weight loss but also blood pressure and cholesterol readings show declines. All three of these parameters are known to be prime contributors to the main cause of death in diabetics, cardiovascular disease.

It has already been 10 years since the last drug was approved specifically for a weight loss indication. The failure of these two latest medications to achieve approval is certain to cause the pharmaceutical industry to severely curtail if not abandon further investment in this type of drug development.

Why is the FDA so reluctant to approve a weight loss pill? This is a complex issue but requires an answer. A new weight loss inducing medication is certain to be highly anticipated and widely prescribed. Therefore, from the very first day of approval the FDA must take responsibility for the well being of millions of people who are likely to take the medication. We are a society which demands our medications deliver miraculous cures with no side-effects. If someone perceives they have been injured by a medication our legal system is primed to unleash brutal retribution on everyone remotely involved in the approval process. Abuse and injury with a medication designed to cause weight loss is almost a certainty. This is a no-win situation for the administration of the FDA.
I predict it will be at least another 10 years before a medication for weight loss is approved by the FDA. Unless there is a change in the climate of litigation in this country it will take longer than that. In the meantime the only new developments in weight loss drugs will be the result of exploiting appetite suppressant effects which are the “side-effect” of medications approved for other purposes.

Gary Pepper, M.D.
Editor-in-Chief, Metabolism.com

Pharma Expert Examines FDA Moves on Restricting Armour


Hank Frier has been involved with the pharma industry for a long time and helps us see through the news blackout in regards to the FDA actions on Armour. He is also suffering the same fate as many others in the U.S., having been successfully treated with Armour for many years, now forced to switch to other alternatives.

Hank writes:

I too have been switched back to Synthroid after several successful years of being on Armour. At this juncture it is too early to tell how this will impact me. Luckily, my physician had the foresight to also put me on Cytomel after I suggested this from my readings. The combination of Armour and Cytomel seemed to work quite well for me without any adverse events.

This next is my opinion so take it as such. I believe the makers of Synthroid (Abbott Ross) in an attempt to increase their sales of Synthroid put pressure on the FDA to require the makers of Armour to submit an NDA. It is a devastatingly poor tactic by Abbott Ross but typical of this industry.

It is unfortunate that the FDA is caught in the middle of this since by statute and law drugs must pass regulatory muster. Where the FDA has failed is in their lack of looking at the long past history of Armour, its lack of adverse events and its benefit/risk for those individuals that have been using this drug. As opposed to demanding an NDA from Forest Pharma they should have sat with them and reviewed the long history of this drug, the number of scripts written for this drug and even contacting those physicians/endocrinologists that have been prescribing it for their patients.

The only safety question in my mind is does Armour ingestion, a foreign protein, cause an immune response. This would have been reported by the medical profession if that were the case. Secondly, historically, large segments of the population have been eating pig and pig organ meats for generations without ill affects. The ingestion of a purified material from pig (Armour thyroid a protein) is probably benign. The FDA scientists should know this and counsel their legal staff as to the benign nature of the drug.

Hank

I too have been switched back to Synthroid after several successful years of being on Armour. At this juncture it is too early to tell how this will impact me. Luckily, my physician had the foresight to also put me on Cytomel after I suggested this from my readings. The combination of Armour and Cytomel seemed to work quite well for me without any adverse events.

This next is my opinion so take it as such. I believe the makers of Synthroid (Abbott Ross) in an attempt to increase their sales of Synthroid put pressure on the FDA to require the makers of Armour to submit an NDA. It is a devastatingly poor tactic by Abbott Ross but typical of this industry.

It is unfortunate that the FDA is caught in the middle of this since by statute and law drugs must pass regulatory muster. Where the FDA has failed is in their lack of looking at the long past history of Armour, its lack of adverse events and its benefit/risk for those individuals that have been using this drug. As opposed to demanding an NDA from Forest Pharma they should have sat with them and reviewed the long history of this drug, the number of scripts written for this drug and even contacting those physicians/endocrinologists that have been prescribing it for their patients.

The only safety question in my mind is does Armour ingestion, a foreign protein, cause an immune response. This would have been reported by the medical profession if that were the case. Secondly, historically, large segments of the population have been eating pig and pig organ meats for generations without ill affects. The ingestion of a purified material from pig (Armour thyroid a protein) is probably benign. The FDA scientists should know this and counsel their legal staff as to the benign nature of the drug.

Hank
hfrier@comcast.net
Hank Frier
1

Dangerous Alternatives for Desiccated (Armour) Thyroid


Yesterday a patient of mine asked if I was aware of a source of desiccated thyroid produced in Thailand. I was immediately skeptical for a few reasons. Many countries do not have an agency that provides quality control for medications. Whatever the drawbacks to the FDA, it is reassuring to know that for the most part, they have been able to protect citizens in the US from dangerous or defective medications. Many other countries provide similar protection to their population. Unfortunately there are places in the world where potentially dangerous medication is still available without a prescription. Quality control of medication production is also lacking.

My concern is that in some parts of the world, possibly Thailand for example, that a medication like Armour could be made but no qualified individual or agency is available to certify its ingredients or standardization.

Today a well meaning member forwarded their comments on a product called Thyroid S produced in Thailand, which is a supposed substitute for Armour thyroid and is available without a prescription. My reaction is that until we can be certain of the formulation of a medication that the best thing to do is to avoid using it. Perhaps in time someone will be able to provide the necessary information required to evaluate this product but as editor-in-chief of this website I will try to guard our readers against becoming victims of scams and exploitation.

I welcome any information others may have on solid information about Thyroid S or similar compounds being marketed as Armour Thyroid substitutes.