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Friday, 21 October 2011

GlaxoSmithKline morals of gangsters ?

GlaxoSmithKline's former scientific supremo has been summoned by a powerful congressional body to explain his role in the alleged intimidation of a scientist who criticised its diabetes drug, Avandia.

The Senate finance committee has asked Dr Tachi Yamada to describe the circumstances surrounding emails sent to Dr John Buse, a US academic who raised early concerns about an increased risk of heart attacks among patients on Avandia.

Congressmen are unhappy at how Britain's biggest drug company handled the danger signals around Avandia, which was recently given a "black box" warning over its cardiovascular side effects. The Food and Drug Administration has suggested that it may have contributed to 83,000 heart attacks.

Shortly after Avandia was put on sale by GSK's predecessor, SmithKline Beecham, in 1999, doubts were raised about its safety by Buse, a diabetes specialist at the University of North Carolina.

In internal emails, SmithKline executives dubbed him "the Avandia renegade" and discussed ways to quieten him. In a message copied to GSK's chief executive, Jean-Pierre Garnier, Yamada volunteered to speak with an acquaintance who was Buse's department chairman.

A GSK spokeswoman said the company stood by its efforts to correct "serious mis-statements" by Buse - but in a statement it agreed that communications had become "heated" and that "in hindsight, we agree that perhaps we could have handled interactions with Dr Buse better". It added: "GSK understands that there is a fundamental difference between engaging in scientific debate to ensure the accuracy of public statements and trying to inappropriately influence or silence a critic.

Avandia is now banned in most European countries.


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