An exciting time for pharma

photo credit: carbonNYC

Ugh!

This Join Together article reads like a ad for pharma:

Many people struggling with alcohol dependence who could benefit from medication are not receiving it, according to an expert who spoke at the recent American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting.

“Antidepressant prescribing is 100 to 200 times as great as prescriptions for medications approved to treat alcohol dependence, despite the fact that the prevalence of disorders for which antidepressants are prescribed—major and minor depression and anxiety disorders—is only two to three times that of alcohol dependence,” says Henry Kranzler, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at the Treatment Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.

Perhaps I’m the Wrong Tool by Tall Jerome

There’s plenty of room for debate about whether high antidepressant prescribing rates represent money well spent or good medicine, but I’ve covered that before. (See below)

He expresses some enthusiasm about Topamax and then touts a new drug coming from Denmark:

Lundbeck, a Danish pharmaceutical company, has submitted an application for approval by the European Medicines Agency of the medication nalmefene to be used on an as-needed basis to reduce heavy drinking, according to Dr. Kranzler. “This is a novel approach and could have an impact on treatment throughout the European Union and possibly the U.S.,” he adds.

Here’s what a disinterested trade publication had to say about the drug [emphasis mine]:

Danish pharmaceutical company H. Lundbeck A/S yesterday unveiled clinical data on its potential blockbuster drug nalmefene at the 2012 European Congress of Psychiatry clinical in Prague. While Lundbeck and its Finnish partner Biotie Therapeutics Corp. from Turku underline an impressive 66% reduction in total alcohol consumption, a closer look at placebo data is disconcerting. In three placebo-controlled Phase III studies, the drug with the trade name Selincro was given to heavy drinkers who also were given medical advice about their drinking habits. Selincro aims at eliminating the brain’s pleasure response to drinking. After six months, numbers of heavy drinking days (total alcohol consumption) in the first study dropped from 19 to 7 (84g to 30g) in the drug arm, and from 20 to 10 (85g to 43g) in the placebo arm. The numbers of the second study were less convincing and – even worse – in the third study the drug arm barely outperformed the placebo. Nevertheless Biotie-CEO Timo Veromaa thinks that “Selincro has the potential to transform the way alcohol dependence is managed by both patients and physicians.”

Too bad the Join Together article didn’t include a commercial interest disclosure statement* and note that he and/or his projects have received money from the manufacturers of Topamax and nalmefene.

I believe that medications may play a helpful role in the future, but I’m underwhelmed by the current stable of drugs and troubled that so much energy gets put into promoting expensive drugs of dubious value.

This is an exciting time in the treatment of alcoholism, because the field of medication treatment for alcohol dependence is expanding into the arena of personalized medicine, he says.

I’d love to see helpful drugs come along and I think a lot of these docs and researchers have good motives, but they have one tool (the prescription pad) and they seem to consistently oversell it.

* The ASAM event disclosure lists that Dr. Kranzler and/or his projects have recieved money from Alkermes, Roche, Pfizer, Lundbeck, Lilly, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Schering Plough, GlaxoSmithKline, Abbott and Johnson & Johnson. ProPublica does not list him at all. Possible explanations are here.

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