Thursday, March 22, 2007

Drug companies' payments to doctors -- 2

Following up on yesterday's piece (see the previous post), Gardiner Harris reports on how FDA is handling this issue:

Expert advisers to the government who receive money from a drug or device maker would be barred for the first time from voting on whether to approve that company’s products under new rules announced Wednesday for the F.D.A.’s powerful advisory committees.

Indeed, such doctors who receive more than $50,000 from a company or a competitor whose product is being discussed would no longer be allowed to serve on the committees, though those who receive less than that amount in the prior year can join a committee and participate in its discussions.

A “significant number” of the agency’s present advisers would be affected by the new policy, said the F.D.A. acting deputy commissioner, Randall W. Lutter, though he would not say how many. The rules are among the first major changes made by Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach since he was confirmed as commissioner of food and drugs late last year.

Advisory boards recommend drugs for approval and, in rare cases, removal, and their votes can have enormous influence on drug company fortunes.

“The $50,000 threshold is something that we think strikes an appropriate balance between” getting smart advisers and reassuring the public that their advice is not tainted, Dr. Lutter said.

Harris quotes a recent incident:

In one famous example, 10 of the 32 advisers who voted in 2005 to allow the painkiller Bextra to remain on the market and the painkiller Vioxx to return to the market despite safety worries had taken money from the drug makers. Under the new rules, their votes would not have counted and the committee would have voted to keep both drugs off the market.

In the end, the F.D.A. removed Bextra from the market anyway, and Vioxx has never returned. But the controversy surrounding that panel’s vote, and similar ones, tarnished the process and provided new fodder for critics in Congress.


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