A research director for Pfizer was positively buoyant after reading that an important medical conference had just featured a study claiming that the new arthritis drug Celebrex was safer on the stomach than more established drugs.
“They swallowed our story, hook, line and sinker,” he wrote in an e-mail to a colleague.
The truth was that Celebrex was no better at protecting the stomach from serious complications than other drugs. It appeared that way only because Pfizer and its partner, Pharmacia, presented the results from the first six months of a yearlong study rather than the whole thing.
The companies had a lot riding on the outcome of the study, given that Celebrex’s effect on the stomach was its principal selling point. Earlier studies had shown it was no better at relieving pain than common drugs — like ibuprofen — already on the market.
The research chief’s e-mail, sent in 2000, is among thousands of pages of internal documents and depositions unsealed recently by a federal judge in a long-running securities fraud case against Pfizer. While the companies’ handling of the research was revealed a dozen years ago, the documents provide a vivid picture of the calculation made by Pfizer at the time and its efforts ever since to overcome doubts about the drug…
In one e-mail, an associate medical director at Pharmacia (which was later bought by Pfizer) disparaged the way the study was being presented as “data massage,” for “no other reason than it happens to look better…”
The importance of Celebrex to Pfizer is indisputable. It is one of the company’s best-selling drugs, racking up more than $2.5 billion in sales, and was prescribed to 2.4 million patients in the United States last year alone.
The drug is the last of the so-called COX-2 inhibitor pain drugs, after Vioxx and Bextra were withdrawn in 2004 and 2005 because of safety concerns.
And that, at root and cause, is what it’s all about. Pfizer – like their peers – doesn’t care if the wonderful new pharmaceutical they’re preparing to inflict upon unhealthy Americans and citizens of every other nation cures warts on your genitals or prevents death by drowning. It’s a commodity and coming from the Pharma industry it is designed to produce mammoth profits on the order of billion$.
Ethics have little to do with it. Aid to individuals struggling with ill health only define the market. Profiteering is the name of the game and if that involves deceit and outright deception – hey, we’re all grownups in the boardroom.