Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Rost Busts Pfizer and Journalists

Pfizer is proudly touting a new observational study which found that patients who switched from Lipitor to a generic medication had an increased risk of heart problems. Fantastic -- avoid the generic and use Lipitor. Oh, but wait, as Peter Rost points out...

There is only one teeny weeny problem. The most common reason for switching drugs is because the therapy doesn't work; when the drugs don't have the desired effect. So it is completely expected that patients who were forced to switch had a worse outcome. They may simply be treatment resistant.

And Pfizer knows this.

That's the reason they use a weasel-sentence in their press release, hidden deep inside the text, saying "As with all observational studies, the findings should be regarded as hypothesis generating."

But that has not stopped the so-called health media from running with the story from the Lipitor saves, generics kill angle (see several sources on Rost's site). Here's more fuel for the fire:

"The bottom line on this particular study is that the data tell us such switching may not be without consequences," said Michael Berelowitz, senior vice president of Pfizer's global medical division, in a phone interview.

With all due respect, Mr. Berelowitz, it would appear that you are either ignorant on this point or you are lying. An analogy in the mental health field would be if patients who tried Effexor and then switched to a generic tricyclic antidepressant (say, imipramine) were found to have worse depression outcomes than patients who stayed on Effexor. Duh! Again, maybe people who dropped Effexor are treatment-resistant and/or had more severe depression -- medications don't work as well for them. So it would be a pretty stupid comparison to say that those who switched antidepressants were acting dangerously by switching medications, wouldn't it?


x said...

Rost points out

"These headlines were created by journalists who spend their days regurgitating company press releases, without expending a singel critical thought on what they are reporting"

Firstly, I have never known a journalist to apply a cerebral outlook to the story written. Secondly, they don't have time to assess the pros and cons and thirdly they are the media :).

In addition, many do not have the medical or pharmacology training to make an valid assessment. That is of advantage to drug companies who are businesses in the end.
It was a much like the Paroxetine scare in the UK some years ago. Little did Panorama realise that it would cause mass stoppages, mass withdrawal and subsequently mass relapses. This is called irresponsible reporting by the media.

Dr Rita Pal

Roy M. Poses MD said...

Also see our post on Health Care Renewal for even more plausible explanations for this study's results other than that Lipitor is the better drug: