Cleveland Clinic cardiologist and Big Pharma nemesis Steve Nissen has struck again, this time calling out GSK's Avandia in a New England Journal of Medicine analysis of the drug's cardiovascular side effects across a variety of clinical trials. Nissen's meta analysis concludes that Avandia patients are 43% more likely to have a heart attack than patients given a placebo or another drug.
GSK's share price stumbled more than 8% as the markets digested the news, wiping a whopping $13 billion off the company's market cap. The Big Pharma for its part predictably "strongly disagreed" with Nissen and co-author Kathy Wolski, pointing out the intrinsic shortcomings of the kind of meta-analysis done by Nissen and Wolski and holding up data from its ADOPT and DREAM studies, which suggested Avandia risk was comparable to that of commonly used diabetes meds metformin and sulfonylurea and placebo, respectively.
The authors acknowledged the limitations of meta-analysis but suggested GSK needed to make public more data from its Avandia program for further analysis to more accurately determine the drug's cardivascular risks.
"The manufacturer's public disclosure of summary results for rosiglitazone clinical trials is not sufficient to enable a robust assessment of cardiovascular risks," they contend. "Until better precision of the estimates of the risks of this treatment on cardiovascular events can be delineated in patients with diabetes, patients and providers should give careful consideration to the risks and benefits of their overall treatment plans."
The WSJ's Health Blog put together a nice list of Nissen's previous pharma takedowns, which includes Merck's Vioxx and Bristol/Merck's Pargluva. Nissen's prominence as a critic of industry and FDA is something our RPM Report colleagues have examined in depth several times (see their May piece for an FDA reaction to his criticism and this June 2006 look at the emergence of academics like Nissen as a shadow-FDA force to be reckoned with).
FDA's medical policy head Bob Temple told the RPM Report that meta-analyses could become standard practice for drugs on the market (and Avandia isn't the first drug knocked around this year with a retrospective analysis: witness Novartis' Zelnorm). For now the FDA is likely to convene an advisory panel ASAP and won't rule out any regulatory action. That said, the agency wasn't able to react as quickly as Rep. Henry Waxman--who announced earlier today that his Oversight committee will conduct a hearing on the matter June 6th.
Whether or not you think Nissen's brand of activism is necessary, harmful, overdue or half-baked, it's here to stay. Today it was GSK that suffered the smackdown (and diabetes competitors like Merck & Co. who will likely get a boost in the aftermath); tomorrow it'll be someone else.