Ending the Embargo on the Truth

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  • 09/10/2007
We are sharnig, ahead of an embargo, an editorial and a release on two separate articles being issued by JAMA on Sept 11. One co-authored written by Curt Furberg and his colleagues at Wake Forest is entitled " Long-term Risk of Cardiovascular Events with Rosiglitazone" (Avandia) and another by Steve Nissen and colleauges on Pioglitazone and Risk of Cardiovascular Events in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus A Meta-analysis of Randomized Trials (Actos) The one by Nissen claims that Actos reduces risk of heart problems but has no impact on overall death from heart disease. This claim is made from a dataset that is observational, does not control for serverity of heart problems and does not have MI or heart safety as a primary endpoint. The one by Furberg -- a meta-analysis of only 4 clinical trials (a meta-analysis that must set some sort of record for being the smallest ever accepted for publication) claims that Avandia long term has a high risk of MI among long term users yet has no long term impact on total incidence of death from heart problems. That's sort of like saying that driving a certain kind of car leads to more car crashes by no increase in accidents or deaths.

We feel that the increased need for transparency, particularly in the wake of disturbing revelations that the release of safety studies directly to the media or to Congress have lead in the case of SSRIs, diabetes drugs and even pain killers to an over reaction of the public with adverse public health consequences justifies ignores this embargo. Indeed, the embargo is being used to subvert and undermine the ongoing post market review process of the FDA with respect to TZDs.

Both articles ignore and fail to cite the FDA data claiming no increased risk of heart problems apart from heart failure from Avandia and the problems of using observational data that did not have MI as a primary endpoint. Both articles fail to include more recent meta-analysis and re-analysis showing a lower risk of heart problems from Avandia from the Archives of Internal Medicine. (Diamond GA, Bax L, Kaul S. Uncertain Effects of Rosiglitazone on the Risk for Myocardial Infarction and Cardiovascular Death. Ann Intern Med. 2007 Aug 6; [Epub ahead of print] ) Who's doing the peer review at JAMA these days?

And of course the articles are followed by an editioral calling for Avandia to be yanked from the market. That's a far cry from even a recommendation for a black box for MI which even Nissen et al conjecture might be associated with high cholesterol and treated with statins in this article.

The authors could have very well presented these findings at the Adcomm. Knowing the timing of the publication process as we do, it is clear that JAMA, NIssen and Furberg had the information in this article in advance of the FDA Adcomm hearing. Indeed, their reference to the proceedings, their willful refusal to acknowledge alternative findings from the hearings or from other peer-reviewed journals suggest that the publication of these articles are yet another attempt, much like the release of the original NEJM article to usurp the FDA's authority, engage in fearmongering and undo a careful consensus on drug safety evaluation.

Honoring an embargo that undermines the authority of duly constituted regulatory agency is not honorable. The first time it led to chaos and a near public health crisis. We release these articles now with our comments in the hope that we can contain whatever damage Nissen, Furberg and JAMA intended with the anticipated publicity. These articles should have been part of the public record and public debate. They were deliberately withheld to allow them to engage in drug safety vigilantism. That is an abuse of power that honoring the embargo only perpetuates at the expense of the FDA's authority.

Glycemic Control Medication Pioglitazone Appears to Have Overall Favorable Effect Regarding Risk of Cardiovascular Events

CHICAGO – A meta-analysis of previous research suggests that use of pioglitazone, a glycemic control medication for patients with type 2 diabetes, significantly reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and death, but increases the risk for serious heart failure, according to an article in the September 12 issue of JAMA.

A. Michael Lincoff, M.D., and colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic, conducted a meta-analysis of research to evaluate the effect of pioglitazone on the incidence of ischemic cardiovascular complications for patients with type 2 diabetes. Previous evidence had been insufficient to evaluate this effect. This analysis included 19 randomized trials and 16,390 patients. Duration of pioglitazone use ranged from 4 months to 3.5 years.

The researchers found that heart attack, stroke or death occurred in 375 (4.4 percent) of 8,554 patients receiving pioglitazone and 450 (5.7 percent) of 7,836 patients treated with control therapy, an 18 percent relative reduction. These outcomes were all reduced by a similar magnitude with pioglitazone treatment. Serious heart failure was reported in 200 (2.3 percent) of pioglitazone-treated patients and 139 (1.8 percent) of control patients.

“These findings suggest that the net clinical cardiovascular benefit with pioglitazone therapy is favorable, with an important reduction in irreversible ischemic events that is not attenuated by the risk of more frequent heart failure complications,” the authors write.

(JAMA. 2007;298(10):1180-1188.)

Long-Term Use of Glycemic Control Medication Rosiglitazone Associated With Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Heart Failure

Patients with type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance who take the medication rosiglitazone appear to be at increased risk for a heart attack or heart failure, according to a meta-analysis article in this issue of JAMA.

Sonal Singh, M.D., of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, N.C., and colleagues reviewed research to examine the risk of heart attack, heart failure and cardiovascular death with long-term rosiglitazone use. There have been recent reports of serious adverse events with rosiglitazone use, but information available to clinicians on the magnitude and public health impact of these events has been limited.

The researchers compiled data from four randomized trials that included 14,291 patients (n = 6,421 receiving rosiglitazone; n = 7,870 receiving control therapy). Follow-up for these studies was 1-4 years.

The pooled data from the trials indicated that rosiglitazone, compared with controls, significantly increased the risk of heart attack by 42 percent (94 of 6,421 patients who received rosiglitazone vs. 83 of 7,870 patients who received control therapy) and doubled the risk of heart failure (102 of 6,421 patients vs. 62 of 7,870 patients). Use of rosiglitazone was not associated with a significant increase in risk of cardiovascular death.

“Our findings have potential regulatory and clinical implications. These data suggest a reversal of the benefit-to-harm balance for rosiglitazone present at the time of approval. Thus, currently there appear to be much safer treatment alternatives. Regulatory agencies ought to reevaluate whether rosiglitazone should be allowed to remain on the market. Health plans and physicians should not wait for regulatory actions. They should avoid using rosiglitazone in patients with diabetes who are at risk of cardiovascular events, especially since safer treatment alternatives are available,” the authors conclude.

(JAMA. 2007;298(10):1189-1195.)

Editorial: Cardiovascular Risk and the Thiazolidinediones – Déjà Vu All Over Again?

In an accompanying editorial, Daniel H. Solomon, M.D., M.P.H., and Wolfgang C. Winkelmayer, M.D., Sc.D., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, comment on the findings in this week’s JAMA regarding glycemic control medications and drug safety.

“The previous episode with the selective COX-2 inhibitors and the current one with the thiazolidinediones are instructive for designing a better drug safety system. First, early safety concerns must prompt strong and clear regulatory action. … Second, postmarketing adverse events not frequently observed in premarketing studies should be expected when there is incomplete understanding of the mechanism of action of a drug.”

“Third, after several drugs are available for a given indication, new drug approval should be based on improvement in clinical outcomes, not surrogate measures. … Fourth, the decisions for initial approval of a drug and subsequent continued marketing should by symmetric. … Finally, and perhaps most difficult, safety and efficacy must be explicitly balanced when drugs are being considered for approval or for continued marketing.”

(JAMA. 2007;298(10):1216-1218.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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