COMMENTS: Medical Mysteries

A trio of medical investigations took the focus away from the G8 Summit in Germany. The Story of the Day--and the lead on both ABC and CBS--was the diabetes drug Avandia. A House panel held hearings into whether the Food & Drug Administration had monitored its safety properly. A second set of hearings on the Hill probed the Centers for Disease Control's handling of last week's tuberculosis supergerm. And NBC's lead was the latest laboratory research into stem cells.

Avandia (text link) made headlines two weeks ago when The New England Journal of Medicine published research by Dr Steven Nissen at the Cleveland Clinic. Nissen calculated that the medicine, taken by one million diabetics nationwide to reduce glucose levels in the blood, at the same time increases the risk of a heart attack by 43%. NBC's Tom Costello noted that the FDA has responded to Nissen's study by ordering a stronger warning label while GlaxoSmithKline, Avandia's manufacturer, responded by taking out full-page ads claiming to have found "no increased risk of heart attacks."

Since Avandia has been approved as safe and effective since 1999, the House Oversight Committee asked the FDA who was right. "The FDA still does not know," replied ABC's Lisa Stark (subscription required). "It is still pouring over reams of complicated evidence." CBS' Wyatt Andrews called the hearings "unusually raucous" with Republicans questioning Nissen's "political motives." Rep Chris Cannon (R-UT) accused him of causing a 20% slump in the price of GlaxoSmithKline's stock on financial markets. CBS' Nancy Cordes noted that Nissen, a cardiologist, had already identified heart problems from using another FDA-approved prescription drug, the now-withdrawn pain reliever Vioxx: "It is not that I go looking for trouble," Nissen assured her. "In science, it is always better to have information out in the public domain so that it can be evaluated by everybody."

ABC's in-house physician Timothy Johnson (no link) argued for a dual FDA system for approving medicines: one standard of safety for "desperate patients who, quite literally, have nothing to lose;" and a higher standard for medication like Avandia that competes with already available treatments and "that will be taken by millions of people."


You must be logged in to this website to leave a comment. Please click here to log in so you can participate in the discussion.