Friday, November 23, 2007

Is GlaxoSmithKline Engaged in Extortion?

This is truly pathetic. Professor John Buse was apparently "intimidated" by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the drug company that produces Avandia (generic name rosiglitazone). Dr. Buse was one of the earliest researchers to speculate publicly on the possibility that this drug causes increased adverse cardiovascular events.

This charge, and it is stunning, was raised in a report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. I would urge interested readers to take a look at it as it is quite eye-opening. The report stated, "The effect of silencing this criticism is, in our opinion, extremely serious."

GSK sent emails to Buse's superiors complaining about him and threatening a lawsuit. Subsequently, Buse was made to sign a letter drafted by GSK stating he was no longer worried about cardiovascular risks associated with Avandia. The report documents Buse's regret at caving in to GSK's intimidation.

As one who often defends drug companies for the good they do for society, I find this maddening. Attempting to silence a scientist for expressing a scientific viewpoint is an abomination. This is especially true when the public safety is involved.

I personally feel that the question of whether Avandia does or doesn't increase the risk of heart attack or stroke is still up in the air. The principal data used to support this hypothesis is a meta-analysis that has important methodological problems. But to stifle the discussion is wrong. Whether GSK's tactics are illegal is something that's beyond my pay grade, but in my mind, this constitutes extortion. There's no question that they're immoral They make a mockery of the concept of academic freedom and of John Stuart Mills' notion of the greatest good for the greatest number.

Their actions are a slap in the face to anyone such as myself who would defend pharmaceutical companies' right to maximize shareholder return (to make a profit). When a company such as GSK violates basic standards of morality and decency, it doesn't deserve my support.

Rather, its reprehensible behavior should be proclaimed loudly and widely.

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