Eli Lilly antipsychotic drug storm continues

The New York Times have published a second article based on internal documents from drug company Eli Lilly over the promotion of an antipsychotic medication known as Zyprexa or olanzapine – this time claiming that Eli Lilly have been deliberately promoting the drug for unlicensed conditions.

When a drug is ‘licensed’, this is not a license to prescribe the drug, but a license for the drug company to advertise it for a specific condition.

For example, olanzapine is licensed for schizophrenia, meaning it can be advertised as treatment for this condition.

However, doctors have the freedom to prescribe the drug for anything they want to if they think it will help. This is known as ‘off-label’ prescribing.

Promoting ‘off-label’ prescribing is illegal, however, and the article in the New York Times suggests Eli Lilly has been doing exactly this by marketing the use of olanzapine for dementia and undiagnosed psychotic symptoms.

This campaign was allegedly targeted at ‘primary care physicians’ (i.e. GPs or non-specialist doctors) rather than specialists.

In terms of marketing, pharmaceutical companies often consider GPs to be soft targets as they have to know ‘a little about a lot’, and so are more likely to be persuaded by selective data on a particular topic.

From the article:

The documents also show that Lilly encouraged primary care doctors to treat the symptoms and behaviors of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder even if the doctors had not actually diagnosed those diseases in their patients. Lilly’s market research had found that many primary care doctors did not consider themselves qualified to treat people with schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder.

In response to these and previous allegation made by the New York Times, Eli Lilly have issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and have suggested that the allegations are based on an unrepresentative selection of company documents:

The Times failed to mention that these leaked documents are a tiny fraction of the more than 11 million pages of documents provided by Lilly as part of the litigation process. They do not accurately portray Lilly’s conduct. As part of Lilly’s commitment to patients and healthcare professionals, many high-level Lilly physicians and researchers — along with researchers from outside Lilly — were engaged for a number of years to study the issue of Zyprexa and diabetes. Leaked documents involving these discussions do not represent an accurate view of company strategy or conduct.

Link to NYT article ‘Drug Files Show Maker Promoted Unapproved Use’.
Link to response from Eli Lilly.

One Comment

  1. Posted December 19, 2006 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    True,leaked documents don’t convey the ‘whole picture’ but what is compelling is that zyprexa is the 7th some say 5th largest drug sell in the world and Eli Lilly’s #1 by their own admission.
    This is for a drug that can be $2.50 a pill and won’t get you high,and is only FDA approved for 1% of the population.Somebody is pushing zyprexa hard.
    Daniel Haszard


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