Monthly Archives: July 2011

Why does academic medicine allow ghostwriting?

Jonathan Leo, Jeffrey Lacasse, and Andrea Cimino have some suggestions for reform.

Profile on Harlan Krumholz

I just want to highlight this profile on my friend Harlan Krumholz in Yale Alumni Magazine. Harlan is a Yale cardiologist who is a leader in the field of outcomes research — figuring out what works in the real world and applying those lessons to improve outcomes for patients. In the process, he has not been afraid to take on powerful interests, as he did by testifying in the Vioxx trials (described in Snigdha Prakash’s new book All the Justice Money Can Buy) and publishing articles on how the Vioxx debacle happened and what we can learn from it (see here, herehere and here).

I first contacted Harlan after reading about his presentation on the ENHANCE trial at the March 2008 American College of Cardiology meeting. The ENHANCE trial was designed to test whether ezetimibe, a drug that lowers LDL, added any benefit to a statin in slowing the progression of atherosclerosis, as measured by carotid intima-media thickness. My daughter, who has heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia, had been on ezetimibe at one point, so I was particularly interested in the trial. Unfortunately, ezetimibe added no benefit at all and Harlan, representing a panel of cardiologists, was not afraid to state that it is not enough to know a drug’s effect on laboratory markers such as LDL. Rather, we need to know whether a drug improves clinical outcomes, such as heart attacks, strokes and death. As Harlan put it,

There are 3 possibilities with this drug. Eventually—one day, when outcomes studies are finally done—we may recognize that it is an effective medication for reducing cardiovascular risk. The ENHANCE study makes that less likely, but it is not impossible.

It could be that ezetimibe is simply an expensive placebo, and its principal harm is that it drains precious resources from our health care system and possibly leads people to use fewer of the drugs that have been shown to be beneficial. The ENHANCE study suggests that this may be true.

Third, it could be harmful. We do not know enough about the clinical risks of this drug. It is well tolerated and there are no obvious safety problems, but we cannot say if there is an increased risk of acute myocardial infarction or death or another important health problem.

*      *     *      *      *

This study heralds the need for clinical research to guide us in decisions for our patients; ideally, this work must be done early in the drug’s development. It is not right that we are this far down the line with this drug and we have so much uncertainty about its balance of risks and benefits. We must understand the effect of new drugs on people and that relying on a drug’s effect on a set of laboratory tests may not tell the whole story. We have learned this lesson before. It appears that we must learn it again.

Addendum:  Just published in Circulation:  Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, this editor’s perspective by Harlan Krumholz entitled “Patient-Centered Medicine:  The Next Phase in Health Care.”  Here’s an excerpt:

What matters most to patients are outcomes: Did I recover? Is my quality of life better? Patients want to know what has been accomplished by the tests and treatments they have undergone and what has been achieved by the time and resources that have been expended. It is time for us to fully embrace patient-centered medicine, which is ultimately outcomes oriented, with a focus on what patients experience and, among the range of medically reasonable options, gives precedence to what patients prefer.

Chantix meta-analysis

Because I was on vacation when the latest Chantix (varenicline) news broke, I’m a week late in posting on it. Last Monday, a meta-analysis was published online in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The meta-analysis, which combined 14 Chantix clinical trials involving 8216 partcipants, showed a 72% increased risk of ischemic or arrhythmic adverse cardiovascular events. Moreover, all except one trial involving approximately 700 participants excluded patients with a history of cardiovascular disease, indicating that Chantix may have heart risks even for people without a history of heart trouble. The meta-analysis follows last month’s FDA warning that Chantix may raise the risk of cardiovascular events in persons with a history of cardiovascular disease.

A number of people have raised safety concerns with Chantix since it was approved in 2006, including John Spangler and Curt Furberg of Wake Forest University School of Medicine (see background here, here and here), both of whom were co-authors on the meta-analysis. In 2008, researchers at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices issued a report showing a high rate of serious adverse events associated with the drug. In response to the ISMP report, the Federal Aviation Administration said it would no longer permit pilots or air traffic controllers to use Chantix, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advised medical examiners to not qualify anyone currently using Chantix for a commercial motor vehicle license. The Chantix label includes a warning that Chantix may impair driving ability. The label also contains a boxed warning relating to Chantix’s psychiatric risks. Last year, a study published in The Annals of Pharmacotherapy found that Chantix was associated with violent or aggressive thoughts and acts. A study in PLoS One found that Chantix was associated with acts of violence toward others.

In my opinion, smokers should rely on other methods to stop smoking, such as nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion or counseling, rather than using Chantix.

Pharma and patients

Thanks to Gary Schwitzer for interviewing me on his blog. The topic is the intersection of pharma, patients and social media.

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