Can statin drugs really save your life?

When I was hospitalized after my heart attack, cardiologists immediately prescribed Lipitor, a statin drug which happens to be the biggest-selling drug on earth, made by Pfizer, which happens to be the biggest drug company on earth. My LDL (bad) cholesterol numbers went from 4.1 while still in the Coronary Care Unit down to 1.9 a few short weeks later.

(These are Canadian readings, by the way: to convert from Canadian to American readings, just multiply by 40). That’s quite a spectacular result for lowering one’s LDL cholesterol levels – but the question remains: do I really need to take this powerful cholesterol drug every day for the rest of my life?

Dr. Mark Ebell, a professor at the University of Georgia and deputy editor of the journal American Family Physician, says:

“High-risk groups have a lot to gain. But patients at low risk benefit very little if at all. We end up over-treating a lot of patients.”

Continue reading

Lipitor – and nine other blockbuster drugs that are falling off the ‘patent cliff’

Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, sells the world’s biggest brand name drug, Lipitor. According to those busy insiders at Fierce Pharma, this mega-blockbuster cholesterol drug won’t really face marketplace competition until 2011, even though one of the drug’s patents expires this year. And although Pfizer earned $11.4 billion in Lipitor sales last year, that total was a big drop compared to 2008’s $12.4 billion.

After a number of years in the marketplace (usually between 7-12 years in the U.S. and up to 20 years in Canada), a brand name drug’s exclusive patent protection expires, thus opening the market to competition from cheaper generic forms of the same drug.  And when generic drugs become available, the market competition often leads to much lower prices for both the original brand name drug and the generics.  Continue reading

The disturbing story behind Pfizer’s $2.3 billion drug marketing fines

It paid nearly $1.2 billion in criminal fines for the way it pushed Bextrathe largest fine the U.S. government has ever collected from a drug company. It paid a billion dollars more to settle a batch of civil suits –  although it denied wrongdoing – on allegations that it illegally promoted 12 other drugs. In all, Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, lost the equivalent of three months’ profit.

The story began in 2001, when Pfizer’s painkilling drug Bextra was about to hit the market. The drug was part of a revolutionary class of painkillers known as Cox-2 inhibitors that were supposed to be safer than generic drugs, but at 20 times the price of ibuprofen.

Pfizer and its marketing partner, Pharmacia, planned to sell Bextra as a treatment for acute pain, the kind you have after surgery. But in November 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Bextra was not safe for patients at high risk of heart attacks and strokes.

The FDA approved Bextra only for arthritis and menstrual cramps. It rejected the drug in higher doses for acute, surgical pain.  Continue reading

A mere $2.3 billion later…

J0211960262As one who has written countless press releases during the decades I worked in public relations, I just love picking through other people’s press releases now.  I can smell a spin a mile away, and I’m always curious about translating the spin back into The Truth when corporations attempt to communicate with the media.

That’s why I laughed right out loud (giving Lily the Lap-Napping Cat a severe fright) when I read Pfizer Inc.’s recent press release about their rosy future ahead partnered with their new BFF, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Buried in the depths of this rambling release (and didn’t their Communications staff learn in PR school to keep these bloody things to one page max?) is the news that Pfizer has just formed something called an “Executive Compliance Committee”.

Let’s explore what this means.  Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug company, has been in the news lately because of what investigative journalist Ed Silverman on his always-intriguing Pharmalot website describes in this fashion:

“This innovative notion comes hard on the news that Pfizer paid a record-setting, ground-breaking, chair-swiveling, eye-rolling, jaw-dropping, $2.3 billion fine for illegally marketing several drugs, including Bextra, Zyvox, Geodon and Lyrica, over several years – even as other corporate integrity agreements were already in force.” 

Continue reading

Drug marketing by the numbers

  pills more meds please

  • Volume of annual pharmaceutical drug sales worldwide: $733 billion
  • What drug companies spend annually on full page ads in medical journals: $500 million
  • Amount drug industry spent on marketing directly to doctors last year: $7 billion
  • Amount drug industry spent on Direct To Consumer “Ask Your Doctor” ads: $5 billion
  • Hours spent watching TV drug ads last year per person, on average: 30
  • Number of patients who request drugs by name from their doctors each year: 16 million
  • Drug industry’s research and development budget compared with marketing budget: 1/3 to 1/2
  • Ratio of drug reps to doctors in North America: 1 to 2.5
  • Median annual total cash compensation for a drug rep (2008): $96,700
  • Favourable change in a doctor’s prescribing habits after less than 1 minute with a sales rep:  ↑16%
  • Prescribing change seen after 3 minutes with a sales rep:  ↑52%
  • Number of presentations last year where North American doctors paid by drug companies pitched that company’s drug to peers:  237,000
  • Forest Labs’ average payment per speech to 2,000 doctors lecturing about Lexapro: $17,350
  • Biggest legal penalty in U.S. history against Pfizer for unethical drug promotion: $2.38 billion
  • Merck’s advertising budget to launch sales of its painkiller Vioxx: $300 million
  • Annual sales of Vioxx from 1999 to 2004: $2.5 billion
  • Number of deaths due to heart attack or stroke caused by Vioxx before Merck’s recall:  60,000+
  • Number of years that Merck knew about the deadly risks of Vioxx before pulling the drug, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine, 11/23/09:   four

Find out more about drugs you’re taking from the independent Therapeutics Initiative at the University of British Columbia.

Pfizer paid for doc’s helicopter speaking tour to push ‘off-label’ drugs

Pfizer Inc., the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, paid an American physician $4,000 a day to promote the anti-psychotic drug Geodon, and expensed his use of a private helicopter to get him to speaking events that the company booked for him, according to a whistleblower lawsuit. The suit was one of several that led to a recent record-breaking $2.3 billion judgement against Pfizer to settle allegations made in multiple whistleblower lawsuits that the pharmaceutical giant defrauded Medicare, Medicaid and other government-funded health care programs in connection with its market practices for four of its drugs.

The settlement is the largest whistleblower, or qui tam, settlement in U.S. history.  Pfizer agreed to plead guilty to criminal conduct and to pay $2.3 billion in criminal and civil fines.

Mark Westlock of Missouri was a sales rep for Pfizer from 1991 to 2007. He alleges that Pfizer paid psychiatrist Dr. Neil Kaye $4,000 daily speaker fees to talk to other doctors about “the off-label use of Geodon in adolescents,” among other issues.

Now, if I were Dr. Kaye, I’d now be some mad, as Newfoundlanders like to say here, because he no doubt was unaware that competing drug giant Eli Lilly was generously paying its own stable of hired docs up to $50,000 per speech, according to reports about 60 doctors on Lilly’s payroll, revealed last month in the Boston GlobeContinue reading