Another day, another story about a drug company hiding serious side effect info. What more ammo does the new Congress need to require drug companies to reveal ALL side effect information on their products to the public?
These confidential documents were part of lawsuits against the company on behalf of mentally ill patients. The Times now has its hands on hundreds of internal Lilly documents and emails which show a decade-long effort by the drug maker to keep key information secret from doctors about Zyprexa’s link to obesity and tendency to raise blood sugar.
Lilly told its sales reps, “Don’t introduce the issue!!!” when talking about Zyprexa’s side effects in conversations with doctors.
The documents — which include e-mail, marketing material, sales projections and scientific reports — are replete with references to Zyprexa’s importance to Lilly’s future and the need to keep concerns about diabetes and obesity from hurting sales. But that effort became increasingly difficult as doctors saw Zyprexa’s side effects, the documents show.
In 2002, for example, Lilly rejected plans to give psychiatrists guidance about how to treat diabetes, worrying that doing so would tarnish Zyprexa’s reputation. “Although M.D.’s like objective, educational materials, having our reps provide some with diabetes would further build its association to Zyprexa,” a Lilly manager wrote in a March 2002 e-mail message.
But Lilly did expand its marketing to primary care physicians, who its internal studies showed were less aware of Zyprexa’s side effects. Lilly sales material encouraged representatives to promote Zyprexa as a “safe, gentle psychotropic” suitable for people with mild mental illness.
Zyprexa became Lilly’s top selling drug, raking in $4.2 billion last year, with over 2 million people world-wide taking the drug.
In 2000, a group of diabetes doctors that Lilly had retained to consider potential links between Zyprexa and diabetes warned the company that “unless we come clean on this, it could get much more serious than we might anticipate,” according to an e-mail message from one Lilly manager to another.
Yes, “come clean” on a drug’s serious side effects so patients have full information about a drug’s risks. Lilly knew about this for a decade…and did nothing. This news however comes too late for some who have lost loved ones due to Zyprexa.
The fact that Lilly got away with down playing these side effects for so long shows how weak our drug safety system really is. It’s time to hold drug companies accountable, that should be Congress’ first priority when they return to session.