The Cost of Quality

  • by: |
  • 06/25/2014

The New York Times has written quite a lot lately on the cost of drugs – without a word on either the value of new medicines or the cost of investing in innovation. On the up side, the Gray Lady has finally discovered the cost of poor medicines quality.

For years, Dr. Harry Lever, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, has been warning nearly anyone who would listen of his growing suspicions about generic versions of a widely used heart drug, Toprol XL.

Patient after patient, he said, would visit his office complaining of chest pains or other symptoms after switching from the brand-name version, made by AstraZeneca, to a generic product, often one made in India. When he switched them back to the brand — or to another generic — the symptoms disappeared, he said. Dr. Lever wrote a letter outlining his concerns to the Food and Drug Administration in 2012, and this year, he traveled to Washington to try to get the attention of Congress.

Dr. Lever could not prove that the generic drugs were to blame. “You see enough people and you get a feel, but it’s anecdotes,” he said in an interview Monday. “It’s not science.”

This is in keeping with a March Reuter’s story on the same topic:

Some U.S. doctors are becoming concerned about the quality of generic drugs supplied by Indian manufacturers following a flurry of recalls and import bans by the Food and Drug Administration.”

"I'm just beginning to realize the gravity of the problem," said Dr. Steven Nissen, head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. "It's terrible and it is starting to get a lot of traction among physicians."

Hopefully the Times story will provide further traction because, as Dr. Lever said (in the Reuter’s story),

We are losing control over what people are swallowing," said Dr. Harry Lever, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic who is trying raise awareness of the matter among U.S. lawmakers. "Now, when a patient comes in who is not doing well, the first thing I do is look at their drugs and find out who makes it."

It’s too simplistic to call these “quality” problems. There’s a range from sub-standard API and manufacturing issues, to excipient changes and, most importantly, bioequivalence and bioavailability standards.

Bioequivalence does not always equal therapeutic equivalence – and that’s as true for Toprol XL as it is for Wellbutrin. According to the Times story, Two large Indian manufacturers, Wockhardt and Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, have announced recalls over the last two months totaling more than 100,000 bottles of Toprol XL because their products were not dissolving properly — therefore probably not working as they should. The drug is a beta blocker that treats high blood pressure and heart ailments. Not good.

FDA’s recent draft guidances on bioequivalence for both generic and innovator products, as well as the move towards independent labeling for generic products are additional steps the agency has recently taken to address the issue of drug quality beyond safety and efficacy. And the implications for biosimilars is obvious

(Something else to consider is for the FDA to report BE and BA and PK data in generic labels.)

Small is the new Big means we must think differently about pharmacovigilance. While we must continue to capture adverse event data, we must also strive to capture Substandard Pharmaceutical Events (SPEs). SPEs occur when a product does not perform as expected—perhaps because of API or excipient issues. SPEs can arise because of an issue related to therapeutic interchangeability. When it comes to 21st-century pharmacovigilance, we have to both broaden and narrow our views about bioequivalence to the patient level.

Where's the Times editorial on that?


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.

Blog Roll

Alliance for Patient Access Alternative Health Practice
Better Health
Biotech Blog
CA Medicine man
Cafe Pharma
Campaign for Modern Medicines
Carlat Psychiatry Blog
Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry: A Closer Look
Conservative's Forum
Club For Growth
Diabetes Mine
Disruptive Women
Doctors For Patient Care
Dr. Gov
Drug Channels
DTC Perspectives
Envisioning 2.0
FDA Law Blog
Fierce Pharma
Fresh Air Fund
Furious Seasons
Gel Health News
Hands Off My Health
Health Business Blog
Health Care BS
Health Care for All
Healthy Skepticism
Hooked: Ethics, Medicine, and Pharma
Hugh Hewitt
In the Pipeline
In Vivo
Internet Drug News
Jaz'd Healthcare
Jaz'd Pharmaceutical Industry
Jim Edwards' NRx
Kaus Files
Laffer Health Care Report
Little Green Footballs
Med Buzz
Media Research Center
More than Medicine
National Review
Neuroethics & Law
Nurses For Reform
Nurses For Reform Blog
Opinion Journal
Orange Book
Peter Rost
Pharm Aid
Pharma Blog Review
Pharma Blogsphere
Pharma Marketing Blog
Pharmacology Corner
Pharmaceutical Business Review
Piper Report
Prescription for a Cure
Public Plan Facts
Real Clear Politics
Shark Report
Shearlings Got Plowed
Taking Back America
Terra Sigillata
The Cycle
The Catalyst
The Lonely Conservative
Town Hall
Washington Monthly
World of DTC Marketing
WSJ Health Blog