Glaxo's Avandia Scare: Market Feels Effects

A Merrill Lynch research note to clients titled, "Diabetics scared off therapy," and dated Dec. 21, just arrived in my inbox this morning from the pharma analyst David Risinger.

It's a pretty short one -- half a page of text with a chart on the second page -- but it contains some interesting observations about what's happened to the oral diabetes drug market in the wake of the Avandia safety scare earlier this year.

You may recall that a highly controversial article was published last May in "The New England Journal of Medicine" saying the GlaxoSmithKline drug raises the risk of having a heart attack. The company disputes the conclusion and is doing a study to specifically determine the heart side-effects of Avandia.

In the meantime, though, the Food and Drug Administration has put severe safety warnings on the Avandia label.

Risinger uses data from IMS Health , which monitors drug prescriptions, to show that patients aren't just going off Avandia, but that some of them are not switching onto anything else.

He writes, "We believe that scrutiny of Avandia may have harmed the U.S. diabetic population by scaring some patients off of therapy. This is unfortunate, given lack of glucose control among diabetics and the growing diabetes epidemic in the country."

Risinger notes that according to IMS, oral diabetes drug prescriptions were growing in the low single digits. But in the months following the NEJM article -- and especially in the past few months -- there are low single-digit declines in oral diabetes drug prescriptions.

And Risinger relies on that trend to take a swipe at the current regulatory/drug safety climate.

"Although it is 'in vogue' for certain thought leaders and politicians to criticize drug safety," he writes, "we believe these data highlight why it is critical for FDA to remind the public that all drugs carry benefits and risks, and risks should not be over-emphasized to the detriment of patients."

All drugs have side effects.

Questions? Comments?