Do Pharmaceutical Companies, Like Bayer, Have Too Much Influence With the FDA?
Let’s say you want to form a committee to evaluate the safety of a drug; say for example the drugs Yaz, Ocella and Yasmin.
You begin by looking for people who are “experts” about the drug, the ingredients in the drug and the use of the drug.
You find 26 or so people who fit your criteria.
Do you want to eliminate those people who may, might, could, have a conflict of interest; a “dog in the fight”; a prejudice one way or the other about the drug or its ingredients or its use?
If you are forming this committee as a public safety body, wouldn’t you also want to eliminate those individuals who even have “an appearance of conflict” in being independent about their evaluation of the drug?
I think any objective person would answer “yes” to both these questions. The Food & Drug Administration – well, they apparently do not subscribe to the same tenets for evaluating potential conflicts of interest as most of the rest of us.
On December 8, 2010, the FDA convened a committee to evaluate the safety and continued sale of Bayer’s drug Yaz. Yaz, Yasmin and Ocella and drospirenone as an ingredient. These drugs have been linked to an increased level of stroke, heart attack, pulmonary embolus and a number of other life threatening conditions in women who used them and otherwise had no risk factors for these conditions. It has been fairly established that these birth control drugs caused the life threatening and, in some cases, life ending conditions for thousands of women.
It also seems pretty clear that Bayer was less than forthcoming about the dangers associated with Yaz, Ocella, and Yasmin. In fact, there have been allegations that Bayer actually knew and consciously withheld important data from the Food & Drug Administration.
So, given all this “gray matter” surrounding the drug, you would want your conduct, as a regulator, to be beyond reproach, right? Testimony from a former FDA regulator, David Kessler, about some of the committee members raises concerns; perhaps not actual conflicts, but certainly potential conflicts suggesting that Bayer may have felt “owed” something by these committee members:
- One of the committee members was considered a “Bayer trained speaker” and was involved in promotional programs for Bayer. This same physician was in the Bayer speaker program and helped Bayer by reviewing research materials related to Yaz. This member also participated in video promotions on behalf of Bayer.
- A second committee member was listed as a “Bayer Contraception Expert” and apparently conducted research for a company that Bayer eventually purchased. The research the physician was involved in related to the use of drospirenone, which, of course, is the key ingredient in Yaz, Yasmin and Ocella.
- A third is listed by Bayer as a “key opinion leader” and an “external expert”.
- The fourth committee member apparently performed at least four research projects for Bayer; including one involving, yes, you guessed it, drospirenone. All four research projects seem to relate directly to contraceptive drugs.
In a paper filed with the court, Bayer now seeks to exclude the testimony of Dr. David Kessler; who believes these potential conflicts are important. In their court paper, Bayer does not argue that what Dr. Kessler states is untrue; rather Bayer argues that, for legal reasons, he should not be permitted to testify about his findings.
Does this all mean that the members, and possibly others, in the committee voted in favor of Bayer being allowed to keep its billion dollar money maker drug on the market? Not necessarily. That is not the point.
The point is that we will never know for certain.
No one should sit in judgment of whether a drug is or is not too dangerous to remain on the market if they have even the “appearance of” a conflict of interest. Why risk it? Why risk the potential of exposing the public to unnecessary risk if, in fact, a drug is too dangerous, but remains on the market because someone did have a “dog in the fight”?
The point is that these circumstances fairly raise the question of exactly who is really running the FDA and who does the Food & Drug Administration really work for in safety vs. marketing situations.