An Internet psychiatry blog first raised questions March 2 about the research Schulz presented at the APA conference and why it lacked any of the company's findings."It raises troubling questions when an independent academic author presents results that are in direct opposition to the underlying data," wrote the blogger, an anonymous academic.
He didn't cite my blog by name -- the unwieldy long name which I stupidly chose for the site may be responsible for that -- but I'm nonetheless grateful that my site was acknowledged for its work on this story. He is referencing my post in which I noted that a University of Minnesota psychiatry professor (Charles Schulz) had stated in a press release that Seroquel was "more effective" than Haldol. This was based upon his analysis of data comparing Seroquel to the much older antipsychotic drug Haldol in the treatment of schizophrenia. Yet an internal AstraZeneca analysis found that Haldol was actually more effective than Seroquel. Both the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, the two big papers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area ran stories on the controversy.
When asked about his lavishing of praise on Seroquel in the press release, the Pioneer Press said:
In an interview with the Pioneer Press last week, Schulz defended his research and presentation of Seroquel as accurate and ethical. However, he acknowledged the corporate press release from his APA presentation might have exaggerated in calling Seroquel "significantly superior."
"You know," he said, "I can't disagree with that."
Schulz said the following in the Star Tribune:
In an interview this week, Schulz said the pharmaceutical company never shared its doubts about Seroquel, which went on to become a blockbuster, with annual sales of $4.5 billion today. "I don't recall anybody calling up and saying, oh my goodness, we have this problem," he said. At the same time, Schulz acknowledged that his own study did not really show that Seroquel was more effective than the older drug. "That's a bit of a misunderstanding," he said. "I think the overall message is that it works about the same."
Thanks to a helpful reader, I was able to track down what appears to be Schulz's presentation from 2000. It says "...quetiapine was clearly statistically significantly superior to placebo as well as to haloperidol..." This appears to contradict his statement that Haldol and Seroquel "work about the same." Again, the data from Schulz's presentation don't match AstraZeneca's internal analysis. Schulz is obviously backing away from his earlier praise for Seroquel, for which he deserves some credit. The problem was that Schulz, along with a laundry list of researchers in psychiatry were caught in a tidal wave of unbridled enthusiasm for the atypical antipsychotics, first as wonder drugs for schizophrenia, then as the Next Big Thing in bipolar, then moving into the world of depression and anxiety disorders in the absence of decent supportive evidence.
Interesting sidenote: While Schulz was presenting on the wonders of Seroquel, he was likely quite unaware that AstraZeneca has conducted a study (Study 15) which had found that Seroquel compared unfavorably to Haldol in preventing psychotic relapse among patients with schizophrenia who began the study in full or partial symptom remisison. Furious Seasons has some additional reporting on this study. It is a near certainty that Schulz was not informed about this study's results, as this could have changed his lofty opinion of Seroquel. This points to the problem of researchers relying on data collected by drug companies -- how are researchers to know they are receiving all of the data?
Note to key opinion leaders: If you don't realize it by now, you are pawns. You are being used to place an academic veneer on the marketing of drugs. The drugs that you are marketing as major breakthroughs typically offer little to no benefit over existing treatment and may cause a slew of nasty side effects. Decide if you want to be a scientist or a marketer. Don't try to do both at the same time, because the odds are pretty good that your scientific credentials will end up being tarnished. Just ask this guy. Now that the media are paying much closer attention to the conflicted interests and skewed science that sadly underlie much of psychiatry these days, it would be a good idea to maintain appearances.