It seems like the general public has a very short memory. When I ask patients if they remember the Vioxx debacle, more and more often the answer is no.
100,000+ heart attacks, lord knows how many deaths, billions in lawsuit payments, a 20/20 special and the revelation that Merck had fabricated clinical studies and got them published in major medical journals. This all happened less than a decade ago. Unless everyone has early onset dementia, one would think that something this dramatic would stand out in the American public’s memory.
But alas, I occasionally have patients coming in who had been given Celebrex (the only one in this class still on the market) and didn’t remember what had happened. Heck–forget if the patient remembered–as a physician would you ever recommend this class of drugs given its history?
The real problem with Merck was that they knew there were cardiovascular problems several years before the dangers leaked out by an internal whistleblower. This is why the lawsuits were filled and ultimately settled. Good ole’ fashioned ethics would tell us that this is not a good way to run a business that cares for its customers. Hold off bad news as long as you can while you rake in as much in profits as you can.
Good thing the cat’s out of the bag and it can’t happen again.
You, of course, know where this is going.
Regular readers of the Rantings know how I feel about the new fancy-dancy diabetic drugs that affect GLP-1 pathways and help manage diabetes. If you haven’t read my previous blog articles on this topic, you can read them by clicking here. These include drugs with names like Januvia, Byetta, Onglyza and Victosa. The cost of these prescriptions typically run around $200 / month. And they are being give out like candy to diabetics.
Worse, the drug manufacturers are desperately pushing the bonds of what they can be used for. These uses include prediabetes and weight loss. I have seen completely off label use of this class of drugs given to patients in my office for conditions they should NOT be used for.
At $200 / month, this class of drugs is very profitable. Profitable enough for investors to shun warnings in lieu of profits.
You see, one of the greater concerns with this drug is the risk of developing acute pancreatitis. If you or someone close to you has sufferred an attack of acute pancreatitis, you know this is incredibly painful and can even prove fatal. There are concerns that the risk of developing acute pancreatitis are 10 times higher in those taking the drugs.
Here’s the problem. According to this editorial, investors tied to the companies that manufacture these drugs knew the dangers at least a year before the FDA sent warning letters out to physicians. While the jury is still out on on just how great the risk is vs the benefit on blood sugar control, the data presented currently looks pretty incriminating. Personally, I would never consider taking this class of drug.
There’s a very good chance this whole thing could blow up in the near future. Just make sure you’re not counted as part of the collateral damage.