FDA: No link between Singulair and suicidal behavior

On Tuesday, the FDA announced that an investigation into Merck’s clinical trial data did not discover a link between Singulair (montelukast) and suicidal behavior. The investigation, which began 9 months ago, was prompted by a number of reported suicides, especially that of 15-year-old Cody Miller who took the drug and appeared to have no history of mood or behavioral problems. (It is worth noting here that Singulair “is the top-selling drug for people under 17 years old” and Merck’s biggest seller with annual sales of close to $4.5 billion.)

In attempt to assess Merck’s data better, the FDA also investigated AstraZeneca’s Accolate (zafirlukast) and Cornerstone Therapeutics’s Zyflo (zileuton). Although the FDA did imply that “the data were inadequate to draw a firm conclusion” and said that the clinical trials were not set up to observe any psychiatric behavior. Here are the data the FDA discovered during their review of these trials:

SingulairSingulair: 41 placebo-controlled trials that included 9,929 patients

  • Reports of suicidal thoughts: 1 (treated with Singulair)
  • Attempted suicides: None reported
  • Completed suicides: None reported

AccolateAccolate: 45 placebo-controlled trials that included 7,540 patients

  • Reports of suicidal thoughts: 1 (placebo group)
  • Attempted suicides: 1 (placebo group)
  • Completed suicides: None reported

ZyfloZyflo: 11 placebo-controlled trials (number of patients unknown)

  • Reports of suicidal thoughts: None reported
  • Attempted suicides: None reported
  • Completed suicides: None reported

Forgive me for being cynical but the data sounds fishy. I can’t pinpoint why but it does. The suicide numbers and patient involvement data seem to deviate some from the numbers listed in Merck’s PR issued last March. (I’m seeing 11,000+ patients vs. 9,929 patients.) Regardless of the clinical trial data, it appears that the FDA as of yet have not reviewed post-marketing data.

Scott Korn, a senior safety surveillance executive for Merck said in an article for Reuters:

“‘At the time we did not believe, and we still don’t think a link has been established’ between Singulair and the suicides.”

In the same article, Sanford Berstein analyst Tim Anderson had this to say about the possibility of the FDA finding a link:

“If the… safety review leads to a stern warning about behavioral changes in the Singulair label, this could frighten users of the drug or their parents and give Merck’s competitors ammunition to attack the brand.”

The Washington Post has Dr. David Weldon, director of the Allergy and Pulmonary Lab Services at Scott & White in College Station, Texas, on record saying that he had not “seen any increase in psychiatric problems with the drug but that some patients had complained of nightmares after starting on Singulair.” (Note: It appears that the closest conflict of interest Weldon would have here is that he served as a consultant and is honoraria for AstraZeneca.)

Dr. Rauno Joks, head of the SUNY Downstate division of allergy and immunology, made an interesting point in the Washington Post article:

“The physician really needs to review whether there are symptoms that have developed since patients started taking the medication, if there’s an underlying depression that was there before medication started.

Also, seasonal allergies in and of themselves can cause fatigue and lethargy, which makes it harder to assess, because those are some of the symptoms you have with depression.”

The FDA says they’ve completed analyses of submitted clinical trial data but their “safety review will continue” for several more months before they come to a concrete conclusion. For customer testimonials, check out medications.com that has over 2,300 people reporting side effects and askapatient.com that has an average 2.3 rating from 524 reviewers. The most commonly reported mood-related side effect on both of the sites is irritability.

FDA: Doctors don't disclose conflicts of interest? We don't really care

According to a NYTimes article, government investigators have reported that the FDA doesn’t seem to care much about the financial disclosure of doctors who participated in clinical trials of medication and diagnostic devices. Then get this:

Moreover, the investigators say, agency officials told them that trying to protect patients from such conflicts was not worth the effort. (Despite the fact that the FDA’s rules require it.)

Doctor making moneyThe article goes on to say that in 42 percent of clinical trials, the FDA did not receive financial disclosure forms that might report conflicts of interest and never followed up on them. In 31 percent of the trials in which the forms were received, “agency reviewers did not document that they looked at the information.” And then, in 20 percent of the cases in which doctors disclosed significant financial conflicts—”neither the FDA nor the sponsoring companies took any action to deal with the conflicts.”

Apparently, the NIH has been investigated for the same thing and government investigators came to the same conclusion as in the FDA case.

Brief update on Singulair-suicide link

Merck issued a press release today responding to the FDA’s investigation. Along with the standard "we didn’t know about this problem until after it the market" disclaimer, the PR mentioned:

In a cumulative analysis recently provided to the FDA of Merck’s randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials, which included over 11,000 adults and children in over 40 studies who were treated with SINGULAIR, there were no reports of suicidal thoughts or actions and no completed suicides in the patients who received SINGULAIR.

Additionally, in a cumulative analysis recently provided to the FDA of Merck’s randomized, double-blind, clinical trials that compared SINGULAIR with other active agents to treat asthma (which included over 3,900 adults and children who were treated with SINGULAIR and over 3,400 who were treated with other asthma therapies), there was 1 patient who attempted suicide who received SINGULAIR, and there were 3 patients who attempted suicide who received other asthma therapies (including inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta-agonists).  These studies were not designed to compare the rate of suicide in patients taking SINGULAIR with the rate of suicide in patients taking these other asthma agents.

Did Merck report that one suicidal attempt when compared to "other active agents to treat asthma"? It doesn’t say anything in their patient safety or prescribing information when I checked. Perhaps someone can find out whether they reported this in their clinical trials?

In the meantime, the Singulair section of medications.com is ablaze with parents who are now expressing concern over their children’s well-being on the drug. Apparently, issues have cropped up with the drug even before the FDA announced their investigation.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

I recently wrote about the MOTHERS Act and the unnecessary scare tactics surrounding it. A Dallas-Fort Worth TV station picked up on the story and provided a short one-sided view of the issue, continuing to purport that the bill is solely about drugging new moms. I don’t discount Ms. Philo’s terrible experience with her medication. In fact, I’d be against the act if its sole purpose was to force treatment on pregnant women – medicated or not. Again, I’d like to reiterate that the bill’s purpose is to educate moms about postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis – not to shove unnecessary pills down women’s throats.

If you have sleep apnea, your CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine may alleviate depression symptoms. My husband has sleep apnea and hasn’t been able to use the CPAP machine because of sinus problems. When he doesn’t use it (he hasn’t for a while), he’s noticeably moodier and prone to depressive symptoms. But then again, anyone who doesn’t get good sleep for several days is pretty moody.

Seroquel XRAstraZeneca (AZ) is going after Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Novartis AG’s Sandoz unit after the two companies applied to make cheaper version of Seroquel available. AZ’s patent on Seroquel expires in 2011. The trial date for patent litigation is August 11. In the meantime, according to the Bloomberg report, the FDA is considering approval of Seroquel XR for bipolar depression and bipolar mania.

What is it about the U.K. that they seem to take pharma’s power more seriously than the U.S.? The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) charged GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the maker of Seroxat (Paxil in the U.S.), with not fully disclosing their clinical trial data that downplayed serious side effects such as increasing suicidal tendencies among those 18 years and younger. The MHRA also asserts that Seroxat didn’t alleviate depression as much as GSK’s initial data showed. GSK, of course, denied manipulating the data to show favorable results:

GSK denies withholding data, claiming the risks did not come to light until the results of nine studies were pooled.

The UK minister of public health, Dawn Primarilo, promised to address the issue of Big Pharma hiding negative clinical trial data.

“Notwithstanding the limitations that may exist in the law, pharmaceutical companies should disclose any information they have that would have a bearing on the protection of health,” she says.

In other news, I shouldn’t be a successful writer or novelist. The correlation between creative writers and suicide is ridiculously high. More than 70 well-known writers and poets have successfully committed suicide. How much more “unknown” writers and poets have as well?

(Image from Monthly Prescribing Reference)

The Zoloft-rage/violence connection

[This post is quite lengthy so I suggest you grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit down and read it. The following is not for the faint of heart (or those with a lack of time).]

It’s been amazing to me that I’ve received numerous comments on Zoloft inducing rage. I’m humbled by having a Pittman supporter visit my site and post some comments from the ChristopherPittman.org forums. Read the following:

In my senior year in high school I was diagnosed as being severely depressed and put on medication. The first medication that I was on I took for 5 months and it made me really aggressive. My friends and family noticed the change and I told my doctor about it and she changed my meds. After that I was fine. I am normally a very passive person and will let just about anything fly. But the medication made me really aggravated and aggressive toward my friends and family and it seemed that I wasn’t overcoming my depression. I just got done watching the 48 hours investigation on the Discovery Times Channel and felt a connection with Chris. I felt that I had to write this to let you know that Chris is not the only one out there that had these side effects. I think there should be a study done to see how many people that take antidepressants have increased aggression. The problem is that the pharmaceutical industry has deep pockets and many lobbyists. I hope this helps in some way.

And another:

I remember the case when it happened.

At the time I thought, “Zoloft right”.

Let me tell you my physician put me on Zoloft and it took about three weeks for my to become psychotic and I’m a 50 year old woman.

I have three children and I don’t make a lot of money but please let me know if I can do anything for the Pittman boy.

The jury should have been placed on Zoloft before they made they decision. Unless you’ve experience it you simply cannot believe its’ effect.

Brynn and Phil HartmanI did a bit of quick reading/research into Zoloft triggering violence in people who otherwise would have never been violent and it seems that are a few stories out there to support the assertion. I found a few comments on depressionblog.com that mentioned a link between Zoloft and rage fits. A Salon.com article published a story antidepressants inducing rage in 1999. Apparently, Brynn Hartman, the wife of famous comedian Phil Hartman, killed herself and her husband while taking Zoloft. While close friends attribute the sudden behavior on the antidepressant, others attribute it to a combination of the medication with cocaine and alcohol in her system. (Zoloft does have a warning against alcohol use in conjunction with the drug.)

One interesting thing I learned from the article is that this kind of behavior is often labeled under the name akathisia on patient safety guides. Most – if not all – of the major antidepressants list akathisia as a side effect. Here’s the initial description of this condition from Wikipedia:

Akathisia, or acathisia, is an unpleasant subjective sensation of “inner” restlessness that manifests itself with an inability to sit still or remain motionless… Its most common cause is as a side effect of medications, mainly neuroleptic antipsychotics especially the phenothiazines (such as perphenazine and chlorpromazine), thioxanthenes (such as flupenthixol and zuclopenthixol) and butyrophenones (such as haloperidol (Haldol)), and rarely, antidepressants.

Akathisia may range in intensity from a mild sense of disquiet or anxiety (which may be easily overlooked) to a total inability to sit still, accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, malaise, and severe dysphoria (manifesting as an almost indescribable sense of terror and doom).

No real mention of extreme anger or irritability mentioned there. But if you read on…

The 2006 U.K. study by Healy, Herxheimer, and Menkes observed that akathisia is often miscoded in antidepressant clinical trials as “agitation, emotional lability, and hyperkinesis (overactivity)”. The study further points out that misdiagnosis of akathisia as simple motor restlessness occurs, but that this is more properly classed as dyskinesia. Healy, et. al., further show links between antidepressant-induced akathisia and violence, including suicide, as akathisia can “exacerbate psychopathology.” The study goes on to state that there is extensive clinical evidence correlating akathisia with SSRI use, showing that approximately ten times as many patients on SSRIs as those on placebos showed symptoms severe enough to drop out of a trial (5.0% compared to 0.5%).

Read the rest of this entry »

Hirschfeld developed MDQ for GSK

“GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical healthcare companies, is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better, and live longer.”

Quetiapine articleOK, I’ll be honest. I can’t keep up with my own posts and have no idea whether or not I’ve posted on this yet. Judging from the fact that I still have this bp booklet, I’m going to guess not. If I have, then there’s more.

When my psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder in November, he handed me a bunch of material: a mood tracker (PDF), an article touting the benefits of Seroquel, and a booklet titled, “Bipolar Disorder,” which refers the reader to www.1on1.health.com.

The booklet seems pretty harmless to a patient newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder:

“Highs and lows can be part of life. But, with bipolar disorder, they can be severe. You may feel too depressed to get out of bed one day. Soon after, you may feel full of energy. You may have normal times between the highs and lows. When people have mood symptoms, it’s more likely to be depression.

Mood swings can be hard to predict. But you may have warning signs. You may even learn what can trigger your symptoms. You’ll read about this and more in this booklet.

Bipolar disorder is complex. Doctors docn’t know what causes it. They know that genes play a role. The illness may be linked to brain chemicals. These chemicals can get out of balance.

There are treatments to help control the symptoms. Learn about your condition. Get help for it. This booklet is a good first step.”

Thank you, GlaxoSmithKline.

GSK, the provider of such psych drugs as Lamictal, Paxil, and Wellbutrin, issues a series of booklets for patients referring them to 1on1health.com. The topics include depression, anxiety disorders, epilepsy, type 2 diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol, among others. The tips seems pretty simple and straightforward:

“Health and lifestyle chances may trigger your symptoms. Some common changes are:

Not having a sleep schedule
Misusing alcohol or drugs
Stopping your medicine, or starting medicine for depression or another illness
Having thyroid or other health problems”

Then it gets into the general stuff about the difference between mania, depression and further clarifies what hypomania and mixed moods are. Then, the kicker follows:

“If you think you may have bipolar disorder, fill out the checklist on the next two pages. Share it with your doctor. He or she can use it to help diagnose you.”

Bipolar questionnaireFurious Seasons posted a link about a fake drug named Havidol (which I totally got suckered into because I skimmed the post and missed the “OK, it’s a gag” part), but the hilarity stems from similarly stupid (and vague) questions. I’ve put a screenshot of the PDF GSK provides on their Web site to the right. My issue is not so much with the questions necessarily, but with the lead-in to them:

Has there been a time when...” [emphasis mine]

It doesn’t matter whether you were 3 years old or 46 years old, if you answered “yes” to more than one “there’s ever been a time when” question, guess what? You MAY qualify for bipolar disorder! A sampling:

Has there ever been a time when…

  • You were easily angered that you shouted at people or started fights?
  • You felt much more sure of yourself than usual?
  • You talked or spoke much faster than usual?
  • You were so easily distracted that you couldn’t focus?
  • You had much more energy than usual?
  • You were much more active or did many more things than usual?
  • You were much more social than usual?
  • You were much more interested in sex than usual?

Guaranteed everyone reading this said “yes” to at least TWO questions. If not, I question whether you’re breathing. (Sadly enough, this makes me realize how easy it was for me to get fooled by the phony Havidol quiz.)

The follow-up to the questions above asks, “If you checked YES to more than one of the questions above, have several of these things happened during the same period of time?” Then, “How much of a problem did any of these things cause you (like not being able to work, or having money or legal troubles)? Choose one[:]

  1. No problem
  2. Minor problem
  3. Moderate problem
  4. Serious problem”

The multiple choice question above may not matter. Answering some of the lead-in questions in the affirmative may qualify you for the disorder.

Here’s a nice little tidbit. The questionnaire was “adapted with permission from Robert M.A. Hirschfeld, M.D.” So as an uninformed patient reading this (which I was at the time), I’m thinking, “Oh, this must be legit since they got permission from a doctor to use this checklist.” There’s more than meets the eye here.

On the surface, Dr. Hirschfeld seems like an awesome doctor – and he very well may be. Dr Hirschfeld’s bio from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) extols the “Professor and Chair” of its psychiatry deparment. He has history of working with various national organizations such as the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association,  National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). He’s written all kinds of articles and blah blah blah. He’s considered a leader in his research of bipolar disorder.

In fact, because Dr. Hirschfeld is so great, he’s a member of pharmaceutical boards and has acted as a consultant for pharmaceutical companies, according to ISI Highly Cited.com. Some of our favorite guys appear here: Pfizer, Wyeth, Abbott Labs., Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Forest Labs, Janssen, and – lookee here! – GSK.

The duration of Dr. Hirschfeld’s affiliations with these pharmaceutical companies are unspecified. All other “appointments/affiliations” have assigned years, i.e. 1972-1977, 2001-Present. His consulting affiliations follow his internship in 1968-1969. It looks a bit misleading to follow the consulting jobs after, oh say, 1969, and not provide dates of when he became a consultant for all of these pharma companies. Toward the end of the document that I found, his affiliations from 1986-Present are listed with various boards, associations, journals, and a slew of pharmaceutical companies.

Hello, hello, hello. He is a MEMBER of the Zyprexa U.S. Bipolar Academic Advisory Board, the Celexa/Excitalopram [sic] Executive Advisory Board, the Lamictal National Advisory Board, and the Zoloft Advisory Board.

Humor me here. His clinical trials include:

  • 1994 Paroxetine for Dysthymia (SmithKline Beecham)
  • 1995-97 Several (I found five) double-blind studies on sertraline and imipramine in patients qualifying for the DSM-III definition of major depressive disorder
  • 1996-98 Gabapentin therapy for bipolar patients

And the list, including mirtazapine, fluoxetine, venlafaxine, lamotrigine, goes on. You can also find the “grants” pharma companies gave to fund these clinical trials.

From 1997-2000, Hirschfeld received a $100K grant from Abbott Labs to develop “a new checklist for bipolar symptoms.” (I’m not sure what the old one was.) In 2001, he received a $142K grant for the “Bipolar Prevalence and Impact MDQ Project.”

I don’t even need to look MDQ up. It’s Mood Disorder Questionnaire. The grant came from GSK, who “adapted” the questionnaire with Hirschfeld’s “permission.” That sounds simply gravy.

To understand more about bipolar disorder, you can listen to the stories of Greg, Stuart and Leslie – all your classic bipolar cases and how medication and/or therapy has helped them so much. You can also watch the bipolar
disorder animation
that regurgitates all the things that we’ve become skeptical about.

In the meantime, remember the instructions included in Seroquel’s safety information that no one reads (excuse the crappy “Paint” job):

Seroquel warnings

Pristiq's under-the-radar clinical trials

News stories on Wyeth’s Pristiq, Effexor’s “knockoff”, have focused on the drug’s uses that are pending FDA-approval: vasomotor symptoms accompanying menopause (see hot flashes) and depression. (“Knockoff” term courtesy of CLPsych.) The major media has failed to pick up on Wyeth’s Phase III clinical trials to use Pristiq for fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain (injured tissue or damaged nerve fibers) in diabetics. A search for Pristiq on Wyeth’s Web site yields no results. Desvenlafaxine yields two very meager results.

In related matters, bifeprunox is pending FDA-approval for the use of schizophrenia and is still in Phase III for use of bipolar disorder. They are also in Phase III of testing Lybrex (levonorgestrel) for use for Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder in addition to the drug functioning as an oral contraceptive. (I’ll be honest; I had NO clue that diagnosis existed.) In any event, I’ve been misdiagnosed because according to the symptoms, I qualify. I think I also qualify for OOPS – Overdiagnosed and Overmedicated Patient Syndrome.

I’d like expound on Wyeth’s Learn and Confirm phase that’s supposed to replace Phase I and II of clinical trials. It sounds like a speedier way to just get drugs to Phase III of clin. trials, but it’s late and I’m working on something else, so I’ll save that for another day.

Also something to tackle in the future: All these interesting clinical trial results for Effexor XR involving depression and GAD. We’ll see…

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Mood: 6.5

Clinical Trial Phases: Handy to Know

Some of my readers may not have any clue about the difference between Phase I, II, or III of clinical trials, except that they’re, uh, different. Here’s info courtesy ClinicalTrials.gov:

"Study Phase
Most clinical trials are designated as phase I, II, or III, based on the type of questions that study is seeking to answer:

    * In Phase I clinical trials, researchers test a new drug or treatment in a small group of people (20-80) for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range, and identify side effects.
    * In Phase II clinical trials, the study drug or treatment is given to a larger group of people (100-300) to see if it is effective and to further evaluate its safety.
    * In Phase III
studies, the study drug or treatment is given to large groups of people (1,000-3,000) to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments, and collect information that will allow the drug or treatment to be used safely.
    * In Phase IV studies, the post marketing studies delineate additional information including the drug’s risks, benefits, and optimal use.

These phases are defined by the Food and Drug Administration in the Code of Federal Regulations."

I’m sure a pharma blog will pick up on Pristiq soon enough.

Pristiq's FDA Chances: Depression – Yea; Menopause – Nay

As more info on Pristiq continues to roll out, I'll do my best to track them quite closely.

While Wyeth scrambles to resolve issues in its Puerto Rico plant to meet FDA standards, Ms. Kathleen Kerr of Newsday recently reported on Pristiq's potential to be approved for use in depression and hot flashes resulting from menopause. I was so excited to see some decent reporting on a mental health issue in a paper other than the NYT. It was also nice to see that it didn't end with "Shares of Wyeth fell 38 cents Friday to close at $51.50 on the New York Stock Exchange."

"If Pristiq wins Food and Drug Administration approval, it will be the first antidepressant and only non-hormonal remedy marketed specifically for hot flashes. But Pristiq isn't without problems – it poses rare suicide risks in young people."

Read the rest of this entry »

2nd-generation Celexa, or TC-2216

Targacept is in the process of developing a “new class of [oral] drugs known as NNR (neuronal nicotinic receptor) Therapeutics.” They’re starting the first phase of a clinical trial called TC-2216 that targets depression and anxiety treatment.

“The trial is designed to evaluate the safety and tolerability of TC-2216 and to assess its pharmacokinetic profile. The trial is a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, with sequential ascending single oral doses administered to healthy male volunteers.”

The next paragraph in the press release (basically) that I got this from goes on to explain that the new compound focuses in on the central nervous system and mood-regulating neurotransmitters, blah, blah, blah.

“In preclinical studies, TC-2216 showed greater potency than and anti-depressant effects comparable to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclics, which are commonly used treatments for depression, as well as anxiety-relieving effects.”

Because every new product in the clinical trial phase and has yet to receive FDA approval is better than everything currently out on the market. Of course.

“In November, the company announced positive top line results from a Phase II clinical trial of TRIDMAC, a treatment combination comprised of mecamylamine hydrochloride as an augmentation therapy to citalopram hydrobromide, in patients who did not respond adequately to citalopram alone. Mecamylamine hydrochloride binds non-selectively to various NNR subtypes, but there is a body of scientific evidence that suggests that its anti-depressant activity is derived through its antagonism at the alpha4beta2 NNR.”

What’s that mean? They’re basically working on Celexa II if people were treatment-resistant to the original Celexa. Like many other drug companies, they’re patenting a similar version of Celexa once Celexa’s eligible to become a generic brand.

“‘The results of our TRIDMAC trial not only substantiate the promise of the NNR mechanism in the treatment of depression and other mood disorders, but also further bolster our enthusiasm for the potential of TC-2216 said J. Donald deBethizy, Ph.D., Targacept’s President and Chief Executive Officer.’”

That’s a pretty bold statement for a company that’s just in Phase I of a clinical trial.

Pristiq gains ground with FDA

FDA approval for Pristiq (I'll refer to it as Pq occasionally) is contingent upon Wyeth's handling of "quality control problems… made to the satisfaction of federal inspectors." As I'd previously mentioned before, Wyeth has built an amazingly similar medication based on Effexor. Wyeth is trying to market Pristiq as an antidepressant and treatment for vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes during menopause). Wyeth is significantly banking on Pristiq since their $3.5 billion Effexor XR will lose its patent in a few years, allowing other companies to make venlafaxine generics.

Some of the "quality control" problems Wyeth is experiencing:

  • unclear whether Pq keeps depressive episodes at bay
  • efficacy at low doses and in young kids
  • severe nausea in 50 percent of patients in the clinical trials

Reuters' article notes this, though:

"But the studies do not need to be completed prior to approval of the new depression pill."

While Wyeth has admitted that Pq is "structurally related" to Effexor, it "has not yet disclosed if Pristiq has any advantages over Effexor XR, other than to say it would be an alternative to existing treatments."

But it has acknowledged the newer drug caused nausea in about one-half of patients in clinical trials.

Wyeth is banking on patients sticking out the nausea for one week (it supposedly subsides after that) or a 50 mg pill that would be more effective than the whopping 400 mg they used in earlier phases of the clinical trials.

"The company said it will not launch Pristiq until it obtains results from the low-dose trials. Moreover, Wyeth said the timing of the launch also will depend on progress of the FDA's ongoing review of Pristiq as a possible non-hormonal treatment for hot flashes. The FDA is scheduled to decide on the hot flashes indication in April."

Wyeth wants to be absolutely sure they can cover all of their bases in an effort not to lose a single portion on their market share — from those who can tolerate low doses at 50 mg to those who need to go 400 mg and up.

"A G Edwards analyst Joseph Tooley has predicted Pristiq will garner annual sales of $1.4 billion by 2011 — about $1 billion from use against depression and the remainder for menopausal symptoms."

Getting not only psychiatrists to prescribe the drug, but also OB/GYNs is a clever move on their part.

Pristiq posing as pristine

The Trouble With Spikol has linked to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune (via Reuters) that covers Wyeth's new Effexor XR knock-off, Pristiq (desvenlafaxine succinate). Why are they launching Pristiq? Their patent on Effexor will expire in July 2010 when making generic versions of the drug will be up for grabs.

"Wyeth said in July, however, that it will not introduce Pristiq until it completes tests of a low 50-milligram dose of the drug, following trials of higher dosages in which about half the patients experienced nausea."

Too bad clinical trials don't test for withdrawal symptoms. Will Pristiq avoid the withdrawal hell issues that Effexor XR has?

“'We will wait for the results of the low-dose trials, which we've said we expect in early 2007, before making a decision' on when to launch Pristiq, company spokeswoman Gwen Fisher told Reuters on Friday.

She said nausea seen in the earlier trials was mild to moderate and generally went away within a week after treatment began.”

How long were these clinical trials and if the nausea was seen in the "earlier trials," what about the most recent trials?

Pending FDA approval, Wyeth would also like to use Pristiq for vasomotor symptoms in menopausal women.  Wyeth's unannounced strategy will be to introduce Pristiq long before Effexor's patent expires so they don't lose any of their $1 billion market share to an Effexor generic.

A Wyeth PR that went under my radar:

“Pristiq, a serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) now is being studied with a specific focus on women. It initially was developed for two indications that currently are pending approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD) and vasomotor symptoms (VMS) associated with menopause. 

In the area of depression, Pristiq is expected to improve the balance of serotonin and norepinephrine as compared with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) because of its pharmacologic profile as a dual reuptake inhibitor.”

Isn’t that what SNRIs are supposed to do?

“Clinical studies confirm that Pristiq is effective in both men and women. However, women over age 40 represent about 50 percent of the depression market and could benefit from an antidepressant that addresses their symptoms and physiology.”

No kidding – 50 percent of the depression market and the implication of all women over 40 years old? Sure, I believe that. Looks like Wall Street doesn't have much hope for the new drug either.

“Pristiq also may be a treatment option for patients who are on multiple medications. The compound has a low risk of drug-drug interactions. This is important when considering that depression often is a co-morbid condition in medically ill patients and that these patients frequently are taking multiple medications. The Company expects FDA action for the MDD indication in January 2007.”

The multiple medications thing. Um, I’m not a fan of that unless it’s absolutely necessary. It isn’t necessary in a lot of cases.

“FDA action for the second application for Pristiq for vasomotor symptoms associated with menopause is anticipated in April 2007. Pristiq is expected to provide significant relief of hot flushes (decrease in number and severity) associated with menopause.

If approved, Pristiq will be the first non-hormonal treatment indicated for relief of VMS.

The Company also plans to pursue indications for Pristiq that would include fibromyalgia syndrome and diabetic neuropathic pain.”

Wyeth certainly is attempting to milk this new drug for all it’s worth. I hope Furious Seasons or CLPsych take up on investigating this one since I simply don’t have the time, resources, or ability.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Canada.com reports that a Canadian mental health survey found that more than 75 percent of people diagnosed with clinical anxiety or depression experience a severe relapse during the winter months, namely December and January.

“Among the symptoms those people reported, more than half said they experienced ‘feelings of worthlessness,’ ‘inappropriate guilt’ and difficulty thinking or concentrating during the winter holiday season.”

The survey also found that decreased daylight hours and increased debt during the holiday season contribute to stress among those with chronic mental illness. At least the article didn’t say there was a spike in suicides…

Lorraine BraccoLorraine Bracco, known as Dr. Melfi on The Sopranos, has written a book about her struggle with clinical depression. She notes the difference between how she functioned before her depression hit and after. She cites Zoloft as the antidepressant that helped her overcome the hump and a mental realization that she needed to get help. She no longer uses antidepressants but she feels that the antidepressant got her to a place where she could find herself again, “I found my joie de vivre, my spirit, my voice.”

And finally, it’s time to be pissed off at Eli Lilly. Documents obtained by a mental health lawyer, given to The New York Times, show that Lilly execs tried to downplay the risk of obesity and hyperglycemia in Zyprexa. The two side effects can lead to a significantly increased risk for diabetes. Lilly material even included statements to sales reps telling them to downplay those risks when pitching the atypical antipsychotic to doctors. Zyprexa, Lilly’s best-selling drug, has been sold to 2 million people and has raked in $4.2 billion worldwide. The drug is primarily prescribed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Of course, Lilly execs, aware that the side effects would keep patients away from the drug, downplayed the risks and even went so far as to say, “There is no scientific evidence establishing that Zyprexa causes diabetes.”

Lawsuits speaks differently, however. Lilly has agreed to pay $750 million to 8,000 people who claim that Zyprexa has caused them to develop diabetes or other medical problems. According to the Times, “thousands more suits against the company are pending.”

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