The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has a piece on Abilify for depression that illustrates many of psychiatry's woes. Full text of the article is here. The journal published an article titled "Examining the efficacy of adjunctive aripiprazole in major depressive disorder: A pooled analysis of two studies." The paper combines data from two previously published studies which examined the addition of Abilify to existing antidepressant treatment (1, 2). One of psychiatry's big-name academics, Michael Thase, signed on as lead author. I'm hoping that he didn't actually write the paper. Actually, there are eleven authors of the paper, which seems a little ridiculous given that the paper is an analysis of data which had already been collected for two previously published clinical trials. Seven of the authors are employees of Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) or Otsuka, which both market Abilify. Wait... If you look closely, you can see my favorite disclosure... In the fine print on the first page...
In case you can't read the fine print: In defense of Thase and the other academic authors, they may have not actually written any of the paper. Much or all of the writing appears to be creditable to Ogilvy Healthworld Medical Education. On their site, they note that they perform:
Clinical Development and Publications ManagementWhatever BMS/Otsuka paid you for this one simply was not enough. Why? Because whomever wrote this thing did an admirable job of focusing on the positive and completely ignoring the negative.
Experienced medical writers work closely with authors, editors and publishers to provide our clients with a full range of publishing options.
Erasing the Patient's Opinions: Remember, the article's title states that it examines the efficacy of adjunctive Abilify (adding Abilify to existing antidepressant treatment). So you'd think the article would mention all of the relevant depression data from the two relevant studies. Well, no. In the two stuides which are discussed in the article, patients were assessed on depression using the following measures:
- Montgomery Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS)
- Inventory of Depressive Symptoms-Self Report Scale (IDS)
- Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptoms Self-Report Scale (QIDS)
Noting that Abilify did not outperform placebo on the self-report measure in the trial, he wrote that "this may be due to the lower sensitivity" of the measure. So the drug wasn't the failure -- blame the rating scale instead. The people at BMS picked the scale and when it doesn't give results they like, then suddenly it's a poor measurement of depression. I bet Dr. Berman would not have complained about the instrument had it yielded results in favor of Abilify.In the publications of each of the two clinical trials, the authors tried to downplay the fact that Abilify was no better than placebo according to patient self-reports. Then, when publishing an analysis that combined the results of the two trials, the authors go a step further by not even mentioning that patients completed a self-report. Right down the memory hole. In my opinion, any reasonable academic author writing about such research would want to note the strengths and limitations of Abilify in treating depression. The lack of benefit on patient-rated measures is a major weakness. Yet several big-time academics signed off on this paper despite its complete scrubbing of negative data. For that, I hereby nominate each author for a coveted Golden Goblet Award. And I credit the ghostwriter at Ogilvy with a fantastic job of serving his/her corporate clients. You, sir or ma'am, deserve kudos for a marketing job well-done.
The instructions for authors who submit to the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry state: "Conclusions should flow logically from the data presented, and methodological flaws and limitations should be acknowledged." Um, does completely scrubbing negative data count as failing to acknowledge limitations? I can see that the peer reviewers and/or editor really paid close attention to this paper.
Safety: The authors note that "adjunctive aripiprazole is relatively well-tolerated in patients with MDD." Relatively? Relative to what -- being hit with a baseball bat repeatedly? They note that akathisia occurred in 25% of patients on Abilify compared to 4% of patients on placebo. Restlessness: 12% vs. 2%; insomnia: 8% vs. 3%; fatigue: 8% vs. 4%; blurred vision: 6% vs 1%. The authors report that akathisia resolved in 52% of patients by the end of the study, which would also mean that for 48% of patients with akathisia, they were stuck with it at the end of the study. But don't worry, it's "relatively well-tolerated."
Overall, another example of a "research" publication being little more than a puff piece in favor of a drug. With big-name academics signed on as authors to add credibilty and just a fine print mention of a ghostwriter.
I thank an anonymous reader for alerting me to this study.
Thase ME, Trivedi MH, Nelson JC, Fava M, Swanink R, Tran Q, Pikalov A, Yang H, Carlson BX, Marcus RN, Berman RM (2008). Examining the efficacy of adjunctive aripiprazole in major depressive disorder: A pooled analysis of 2 studies Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 10, 440-447