04 June 2004

Can He Win This One?

The man on the left is NY Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer, while the one on the right is Dr. Jean-Pierre Garnier, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Glaxo is the manufacturer of the antidepressant Paxil, which has recently been sued by Spitzer because of alleged concealment of trial studies that show Paxil to be harmful to kids and adolescents.

According to an IHT report,
"The point of the lawsuit is to ensure that there is complete information to doctors for making decisions in prescribing," Spitzer said in an interview. "The record with Paxil, we believe, is a powerful one that shows that GSK was making selective disclosures and was not giving doctors the entirety of the evidence."
The New York Times' news account reported that,
"The civil lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, contends that GlaxoSmithKline engaged in persistent fraud by failing to tell doctors that some studies of Paxil showed that the drug did not work in adolescents and might even lead to suicidal thoughts. Far from warning doctors, the suit contends, the company encouraged them to prescribe the drug for youngsters."

Paxil is paroxetine, a cousin of fluoxetine, famously known as Prozac. Both belong to a group of antidepressant medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. In depression, certain brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters are relatively lacking. Serotonin is one of these neurotransmitters that is lacking. The SSRIs, namely Prozac and Paxil, slow down the reabsorption of serotonin making it linger in the vicinity of the receptors for longer times, and allowing the body to make the best use of the reduced amounts of serotonin that it has at the time. This alleviates the depression of the patient taking it.

What I do not understand is why Paxil is getting all the flak while its cousin Prozac is getting all the praise. As if on cue, when news came out that Spitzer was suing Glaxo, news reports praising Prozac also came out. Read this and this and this.

NY Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer, has just been called an "unloved crusader," as BusinessWeek describes his background:
"The guy has taken on some of the biggest financial institutions in the country -- from investment banks to giant mutual-fund firms (insurers are next on his list) -- and made them clean up their acts. And he did it when other regulators shied away from the task, simpering to him, "We can't do it, the industry won't like it."

I am rooting for him. I hope he takes them all out. Here in the Philippines and in most Asian countries, Paxil is known as Seroxat. Different name, same banana. Here, no one bothers to sue GSK. Here, we have few or no Spitzers at all strong enough to battle the industry giants.

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