Internal memos at drug giants Pfizer and Pharmacia have revealed they admit to “cherry-picking” safety data on their top-selling arthritis drug Celebrex in order to gain a market advantage.
According to a post at FiercePharma.com citing a New York Times report, emails and memos exchanged between top officials at the companies said the public accepted the data “hook, line, and sinker” while the companies sat on information showing Celebrex had no clinical benefit over any other drug in its class, COX-2 inhibitors.
Pfizer, which has purchased Pharmacia, has been in a prolonged legal battle over Celebrex for years. Meanwhile, the company continues to record huge profits on the back of the drug, totalling $2.5 billion in 2011, alone. Currently, the company faces a lawsuit alleging it held back data from a safety study because early results showed it had a clinical benefit over its chief competition, Vioxx.
The second half of that study, which included the final half-year of the research, erased any proof that Celebrex was better or safer than Vioxx or Pfizer’s own Bextra. Still, without releasing that data for years, Pfizer has been able to gain market advantage, convincing many that Celebrex is better than other arthritis drugs. The drug is also prescribed to treat pain associated with menstrual cramping.
These memos surfaced during an ongoing securities lawsuit against the company. Pfizer has already paid more than a billion dollars to settle charges that it failed to compensate Brigham Young University for helping develop Celebrex and from personal injury claims by people who suffered unexpected side effects while taking the drug, those similar to Bextra and Vioxx.
Both Bextra and Vioxx have been removed from the market amid high concern the drug was causing fatal heart attacks and stroke to arthritis sufferers taking the drugs to allay the pain of the condition. And despite the discovery of these internal memos, Pfizer continues to claim Celebrex is a safe and effective drug in the treatment of pain caused by arthritis. The report adds that the only comprehensive study being conducted on Celebrex at the moment, investigating claims that the drug adversely affects the stomach of patients, won’t be completed until Pfizer loses patent exclusivity on it, in May 2014.
Pfizer, in turn, has accused New York Times of its own cherry-picking, accusing the source of being selective in the quotes and research offered to it by attorneys arguing these claims in court.
Other research on Celebrex indicates that it and all COX-2 inhibitor drugs create an imbalance in the cardiovascular system and therefore, all pose risks of heart attack, blood clots, and stroke. A study conducted by researchers at University of Pennsylvania found that people taking COX-2 inhibitors were more likely to suffer a heart attack while taking the drug than participants who took placebo (0.8 percent to 0.52 percent).