Pfizer: “They swallowed our story, hook, line and sinker” | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

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Pfizer: “They swallowed our story, hook, line and sinker”

A federal judge has unsealed thousands of pages of damning internal documents showing how Pfizer scientists twisted scientific evidence to sell the painkiller Celebrex, Katie Thomas reports for the New York Times:

A research director for Pfizer was positively buoyant after reading that an important medical conference had just featured a study claiming that the new arthritis drug Celebrex was safer on the stomach than more established drugs.

They swallowed our story, hook, line and sinker,” he wrote in an e-mail to a colleague.

The truth was that Celebrex was no better at protecting the stomach from serious complications than other drugs. It appeared that way only because Pfizer and its partner, Pharmacia, presented the results from the first six months of a yearlong study rather than the whole thing.

The companies had a lot riding on the outcome of the study, given that Celebrex’s effect on the stomach was its principal selling point. Earlier studies had shown it was no better at relieving pain than common drugs — like ibuprofen — already on the market. [NYT]

“The documents suggest that officials made a strategic decision during the early trial to be less than forthcoming about the drug’s safety,” Thomas writes. 

The documents, which date to the early 2000s, were released persuant to a lawsuit by pension funds against Pfizer. The funds contend that, by promoting Celebrex based on incomplete data, Pfizer misled investors, thereby incurring responsibility for the drop in stock value when the truth came out.

It wasn’t just investors who paid for Pfizer’s deviousness. Based on misleading promotions, insurers shelled out billions of dollars for a drug with no proven benefit over cheaper alternatives. Taxpayers were fleeced when publicly-funded insurance programs bought into the Celebrex marketing craze. The biggest losers of all were Celebrex patients, who were exposed to unjustified risks because their doctors were sucked in by Pfizer’s blandishments.

[Photo credit: Kimberly Brown-Azzarello, Creative Commons.]