Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Zyprexa and Key Opinion Leaders

Since the Zyprexa trial is ongoing in Alaska, I thought I should return to the wonderful world of Zyprexa. I encourage readers to follow the Zyprexa coverage at Furious Seasons, Pharmalot, and PharmaGossip. Today, I will discuss the link between key opinion leaders and the marketing of Zyprexa. To preface, a coveted Golden Goblet Nomination could be handed out to several individuals based on their involvement in Zyprexa marketing...

In March 2000, Zyprexa received FDA approval for treatment of manic episodes. One document laid out the multipronged marketing maneuvers that Lilly utilized to move Zyprexa shortly after its approval. Some of the details of this document have been well-covered in a terrific piece of investigative journalism at Furious Seasons. This post will provide some coverage of the link between Zyprexa and the key opinion leaders who helped popularize the drug across the nation.

Once approved for bipolar disorder, Lilly utilized several tactics to market Zyprexa for bipolar disorder, including a satellite conference beamed to about 6000 physicians, and 8000 treatment team members in 1000 facilities. The faculty providing this educational service included many of the big names in academic psychiatry, including Paul Keck, Jan Fawcett, Hagop Akiskal, and Alan Schatzberg.

Alan Schatzberg, you say? Yes, the same Alan Schatzberg who is set to become president of the American Psychiatric Association. Some have been less than pleased with his election as APA president, considering his background as a physician-marketer, a key opinion leader with large conflicts of interest. The same Alan Schatzberg who has been involved in marketing passing itself off as continuing medical education.

Lilly also bankrolled dinner meetings, anticipated to draw 150-400 physicians per sitting. Dr. Schatzberg was also listed as a speaker for such dinners. One mental health service provider was impressed enough with receiving such excellent medical education that you can find it on his CV.

In the document outlining Zypexa's big marketing launch, Paul Keck's name appears in the following contexts:
  • Satellite symposium provider
  • Trainer of "local speakers." I believe this means he would train local physicians in various markets to then discuss Zyprexa with their colleagues.
  • Faculty for bipolar weekend symposia
  • Faculty for audio conferences
  • Faculty for a satellite CME workshop
  • Faculty for "dissemination of Bipolar information to 30,000 customers"
  • Faculty on a "closed symposium" resulting in a CME newsletter and a CME audiotape, both of which were mailed to 30,000 individuals
  • Author of two journal supplement articles
Paul Keck was also a member of a task force chartered by the American Psychiatric Association that served to revise the organization's guidelines to provide a more favorable view of atypical antipsychotics (including Zyprexa) in the treatment of bipolar disorder. No conflict of interest there, eh?

Keck said in a 2002 interview that:
"Often," Keck said, "patients with bipolar disorder require complex treatment regimens to manage all phases of their illness, creating a compliance challenge for patients and a management challenge for clinicians. These studies suggest that physicians may be able to use olanzapine as a foundation to simplify patients’ treatment regimens, and the combination of olanzapine and fluoxetine could be an effective treatment choice
It is likely that Keck was not performing all of his "educational" functions for Lilly in exchange for lollipops. He was likely receiving a healthy dose of cold, hard cash. Yet in the article, nothing is written about his financial links to Lilly. Keck has also appeared in press releases saying nice things about Symbyax (fluoxetine/olanzapine combination).

To be fair, Keck has also stumped for Pfizer's Geodon in press releases. Oh, and he also said nice things about Abilify in a press release. I suppose that if one is going to be a true key opinion leader, a real mover and shaker, one should be prepared to say nice things about whatever new drug is released, since each new drug naturally represents an "important" treatment option. Keck, like Alan Schatzberg and Charles Nemeroff, is also currently listed as a member of the clinical advisory board for Neuroscience CME, a for-profit entity awash in drug industry money. Dr. Daniel Carlat has previously written that the "educational" content produced by this organization is biased, and I find that easy to believe. It's not hard to find examples of poorly done industry-funded CME. In fact, you might be interested in reading about a CME activity in which Nemeroff seems to have pulled data out of thin air.

In sum, the usual fun and games were in play when Zyprexa was initially being pushed for bipolar disorder. Some of the biggest names in psychiatry left their fingerprints all over the marketing of Zyprexa and one of these key opinion leaders recently won the presidential election for the American Psychiatric Association. I suppose, then, that American psychiatrists are generally either unaware of conflicts of interest or don't care about them.

The beautiful thing about being a key opinion leader is that one's name recognition is huge. Among psychiatrists, I bet that Schatzberg's name is better known than that of Bill Clinton, since Schatzberg's byline appears on journal supplements and CME so frequently. That can't hurt when running for president of the national professional organization. I will be very interested to see how Schatzberg handles questions about conflicts of interest and drug industry influence on his profession. Don't be expecting any major efforts at reform in the near future.


soulful sepulcher said...

CP, thank you for this post and the KOL angle on the Zyprexa story. This leaves me speechless. Which is a good thing right now.
It's unbelievable! and causes me grief, to see how manipulated consumers have been at the expense of their lives.

Great post, keep up the good work.

CL Psych said...

Thanks. It seems like someone has to pay attention to these issues.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for exposing these evil doctors, and helping to cement my utter disdain for this profession. Thanks to them, a nd to Lilly, my son was killed by Zyprexa, having done well on lithium for years. After having to go on Medicaid, he was shoved onto this drug and after a large weight gain, fell into a coma and died of profound hyperglycemia. You should go to prison along with Lilly's evil perps, forever, f or what you have done. Maybe the Connecticut RICO trial can get you there.

soulful sepulcher said...

"You should go to prison along with Lilly's evil perps, forever, f or what you have done. Maybe the Connecticut RICO trial can get you there."

Anon--do you mean CP should go to prison? I'm misreading this comment if you believe that--it's kinda out there.