GlaxoSmithKline is having a bad week… January 29, 2007Posted by Johan in Psychopharmacology, Rants.
The headline at BBC is “Drug Company Hid Suicide Link“, which ranks somewhere close to “our CEO’s real last name is Mengele” in the hall of fame of bad news for pharmaceutical companies. In short, the story uncovered by BBC’s Panorama, which aired just minutes ago here in the UK, deals with a rather untidy web of deception and spin instigated by GlaxoSmithKline to promote their antidepressant Seroxat. While the drug was only FDA approved for use in adults, clinical trials showing potentially suicidal effects in teenage users were suppressed, or spun.
The unusual bit is that as part of a large lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline, a large amount of documents have been made public, which was the basis of the Panorama documentary. Perhaps most disturbing from an academic standpoint, two rather reputable researchers in Psychiatry, Neal Ryan and Martin Keller, were exposed as having essentially rubber-stamped articles they hadn’t written, and then getting them published with themself as lead author. While no one has been under illusions about the shady nature of clinical trials and the incentives involved in coming to the “right” conclusions in that line of research, rarely has something like this been brought out into the open before.
Still, it’s a tricky business, treating depressed teenagers. It’s perhaps a fine line between a drug that causes someone to become suicidal, or merely fails to stop that person from going through with what they would have done anyway. The Panorama documentary occasionally swayed to the side of sad case studies, which makes for good TV, but poor evidence. It’s not exactly a surprise that bereaved mothers will look for a reason, any reason, or that teenagers on antidepressants will sometimes kill themselves.
To me, the most offensive part of the whole affair isn’t the spin by GlaxoSmithKline. They’re a business, that’s to be expexted. What bothers me is that some fairly reputable academics apparently rent out their names rather indiscriminately.