Day: June 11, 2007

Weight Loss drug linked to suicide and anxiety? Worldwide

Sanofi-Aventis SA’s weight-loss pill may raise the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts, U.S. regulators said in documents that may help an expert panel decide whether the three-time delayed drug should be approved.

The FDA noted two suicides in clinical trials of volunteers testing the drug. The panel will be asked to discuss whether it can establish a causal link between the medicine and suicidal thoughts or actions.

Some patients who took part in clinical trials of Acomplia suffered from mood swings, anxiety and depression. Trial volunteers given the highest dose lost an average 5.3 kilograms (11.7 pounds) over a one-year period compared with a weight loss of 1.4 kilograms (3.1 pounds) among patients given a control pill. Acomplia significantly lowered the level of HbA1c, a measure of blood sugar, to within a safe range.

So, here’s the classic case for the FDA, as discussed earlier today! Accomplia is a drug designed for weight loss, what I would call a “life management” drug. In clinical trials, which are strictly controlled, and where patients/volunteers are selected and carefully monitored, it seems to increase the incidence of suicidal thoughts, increase anxiety, mood swings and depression. The drug acts by blocking certain receptors in the brain, which should hint at other unforseen effects on the brain. The FDA has been more cautious on this drug than the European regulators, who have approved this drug.

What would I do if I were the FDA? I would wait 2-3 years for post approval studies in Europe to catch any mental health effects. After all, out in the real world, people take drugs imperfectly. The ones who should not qualify take it any way, doctors over-prescribe to patients who would hardly need the drug, things just don’t work as well. So, the best thing for the FDA to do is, nothing! In fact, the FDA is expected to punt the decision to 2010, good job!

Let’s put the benefits of this drug in perspective, all it did was make people lose 10 pounds more than placebo over the course of a year. This is the functional equivalent of eating 100 calories less per day for the period. Is that worth taking a pill everyday to keep that weight off and risking depression, anxiety and suicide?

Brazil proposes G5 summit

interesting news that India, China, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa decide that they no longer need to be invited to the (not so) G(r)8 meeting to talk to each other. This is a welcome development in many ways, may they keep talking.

The Hindu : Front Page : Brazil proposes G5 summit

Though largely overshadowed by the brief “pull aside” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had with U.S. President George W. Bush, the most significant aspect of last week’s G8 meetings was the new dialectic that emerged among the five countries which were invited to Germany as “outreach” partners.

At a meeting of the five — Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa — Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva took the lead in proposing that the group consider getting together again at a forum other than that of the G8 so that its own meetings are no longer incidental to the meetings and agenda of the eight most industrialised countries.

The proposal was welcomed by the other leaders, say Indian officials familiar with the June 7 deliberations of the “outreach,” or O-5, in Berlin. China’s President Hu Jintao noted that the five countries together accounted for 42 per cent of the world’s population and Dr. Singh quoted an old statement of Jawaharlal Nehru that developing countries were partners and not petitioners before the chanceries of the world.

Potentially Incompatible Goals at F.D.A. – New York Times

The New York Times has an article on the FDA’s competing needs of safety and speed in drug approval.

Potentially Incompatible Goals at F.D.A. – New York Times

Safety and speed are the yin and yang of drug regulation. Patients want immediate access to breakthrough medicines but also want to believe the drugs are safe.

These goals can be incompatible. Race a drug to market and much is likely to remain unknown when patients take it. Test a drug thoroughly to assess all possible risks and its release may be delayed by years.

A series of drug-safety scandals has led many on Capitol Hill to question whether the Food and Drug Administration has failed to strike the right balance between speed and safety. A clear sign of this imbalance, these critics say, is the increasing number of F.D.A. drug-safety officers who say they have been punished or ignored after uncovering dangers of popular medicines.

Safety and speed may be mutually incompatible. The biggest culprit is the Prescription Drug User Fees Act (PDUFA) which stipulated that in exchange for fees paid by pharma to the FDA for speedy approval, pharma would get a say in how that money was used. They used this say to cut down on post approval monitoring, weaken post approval data analysis and generally hide unfavorable results.

Do patients always benefit from speed? Again, you have to make distinctions between acute life threatening conditions and chronic, life management conditions. A delay in the approval of a cancer drug may result in the immediate death of the people affected with the cancer. But, a serious safety issue overlooked in this hasty approval would not hurt a healthy person. Yes, it would affect the cancer patient, but they would accept that risk. Something like Vioxx, or Avandia, on the other hand is a drug potentially consumed by millions of people to treat chronic conditions that can be managed in other ways. Since safety issues affecting these drugs could adversely affect otherwise healthy people, the approval process needs to be much more deliberate, involving more patients, and has to include lengthy post-approval monitoring, adverse event reporting, the availability of all data for meta-analysis, etc.

So why does this not happen? Because pharma makes much more money on that blockbuster “lifestyle” drugs taken by millions of otherwise healthy people. The pool of healthy people is much bigger than the pool of cancer victims. It is in their best interest to get a speedy approval.

The answer I guess is to make a clear distinction between these two different types of drugs and have completely different standards, somehow, I don’t think that will happen.