Remastered Guide to an Evil Empire: Pfizer, part three
“I would not send unpublished Neurontin data to anyone outside Pfizer.”
This is an expansion of the Guide to an Evil Empire: Pfizer Lawsuit article. Due to the sheer size of this article, I will break it into pieces for easy reading. As always, I have attempted to be as accurate as possible, but if there are issues or nuances I have missed, please feel free to leave a comment and I will make a correction. Pfizer has been involved in more lawsuits than I can count, so I attempt to use individual lawsuits as examples of their business practices. The goal of these articles is to make the most extensive and exhaustive account of the long history of Pfizer. Please like, share, comment, and subscribe if you enjoyed this content.
Every so often, well meaning individuals will opine on the state of our value system in the Western world. The usual stance taken commonly revolves around how we prioritize entertainment over science. I am sure most of us have heard permutations of the phrase: “We should pay our scientists like rock stars and our rock stars like scientists”.
What these well meaning individuals often miss is the fact that the collective ‘we’ rarely are the ones paying our scientists. No. It is too often companies like Pfizer. I am not disagreeing with the value proposition, per say. Rather, I am disagreeing with the notion that scientists are inherently more valuable than rock stars. At the very least, rock stars rarely have the potential to do as much damage as scientists.
Frankly, maybe we do need to treat scientists more like rock stars, but payment is not the issue. Until proven otherwise, it might be best to assume that every opinion scientists give is being whispered in their ear by a shady public relations professional that is telling them exactly what to say. After you read this part of the series, you might even agree with me.
The saga of Neurontin
This post is based off these PPT slides. Read them for more details (351 slides).
Neurontin is an anticonvulsant approved in 1995 for the treatment of partial seizures. The product was brought to the market by a subsidiary of Warner-Lambert (a soon to be Pfizer acquisition) – Parke-Davis (hereafter “PD”). From the beginning, PD pursued a hyper-aggressive marketing strategy; however, as the drug was only approved to control partial seizures, the strategy needed to be bold.
PD worked with the marketing firm Cline, Davis & Mann to formulate a marketing strategy that included disseminating information about the drug “as widely as possible” throughout the medical literature. Notably, the goal was to increase off-label use of the drug. The company moved quickly and consistently to contact medical professionals to do papers on off-label uses of the drug. Most extensively, but not exclusively, they targeted pain relief, bipolar disorders, and migraine relief. These medical professionals, such as Dr. Gary Mellick, were paid to write papers for PD.
Of course, PD was only interested in positive results that would reinforce their bottom-line. Despite there being no scientific rationale for many of the uses, they continued to pursue this strategy over the next decade progressively increasing sales and off-label use of the drug. They consistently misinterpreted, misrepresented, and flat out lied about study results. For example, a retrospective analysis of clinical trials claimed that Neurontin may have a potentially beneficial effect on mood disorders and well-being. The FDA came to the opposite conclusion with the same studies.
As early as 1996, the FDA expressed concern to PD about the marketing of drugs for off-label uses. Meanwhile, PD and their marketing consultants continued to develop their marketing strategy, again reiterating that positive results would be published. They pushed for higher doses of Neurontin despite a complete lack of scientific evidence that higher doses were useful. The goal was to “encourage titration of higher doses through peer-to-peer influence”.
“[F]ictionalized case histories could be written based on real situations.”
– PD internal documents
One of the ways in which they promoted the drugs included the use of third party education programs designed to wine and dine medical professionals in order to support product expansion in emerging uses (ie., off-label uses). More deceitful methods included ghostwriting articles and paying people to author those papers, providing the authors with $1000 honorariums in return.
In instances where the conferences they ran led to negative feedback, as was the case with Dr. Vera Bril’s hesitancy over the usefulness of Neurontin, they planted audience members during the Q&A period in order to get her to address some of the “positive” aspects of the drugs. Usually, though, this was not a problem as they screened doctors in order to find the most likely to be enthusiastic about the drug, and excluded ones that were skeptical. If the authors of papers wanted suggestions, PD was happy to help; for example, one paper changed the wording from “probably no more effective than placebo…” to “may be effective in the treatment…” before it made its way to final review. But some authors were more than willing to slip an active placebo into the study to cover up adverse events.
They delayed studies. Ignored studies. Suppressed studies. Suppressed data.
“I would not send unpublished Neurontin data to anyone outside Pfizer.”
– Internal Pfizer documents
Anything to keep the “drumbeat” in the medical literature going. Fake journals sponsored by PD? Why not? A lot of the tactics, in fact, would look similar to most readers today. The key message was safe and effective. The key method was to saturate trade and consumer media with their message. To produce “independent” positive case reports and create “independent” reviews to reinforce global marketing messages (quotations around independent not added by me).
They knew their audience. They knew “a minimal amount of information appropriately delivered” was all they needed to sell the drug. The drug was
only effective. for the last four weeks?
When Dr. David Franklin decided to blow the whistle, Pfizer sent a private detective after him. Manufacturing fear, apparently, is nothing new to Pfizer. Franklin would note that conversations with PD were around his willingness to work in gray areas and claimed the company had made "tens of thousands of payments" for consultations and studies in order to fraudulently push off-label uses of the drugs. And indeed, the facts supported Dr. Franklin. Pfizer ended up paying $430 million dollars to resolve the case. Of course, after $10 billion dollars in sales and 43,415,904 “allegedly” unlawful prescriptions, I bet they do it all again.
This is the end of part three of a multi-part series. Part three covers Neurontin. Pfizer’s lawsuits get progressively more dense as the years go on but this may be due to better records being kept in the latter part of Pfizer’s history.
Please subscribe to stay tuned for part four in this ongoing series.
Man, the more I read this, the more I have serious questions about how 2 of the 4 people who died in the placebo group by December 2020 in the trials, died of "unknown causes".
I hate to say this, but I’ve used gabapentin (generic Neurontin) for nerve damage pain off and on for 15+ years. 300mg 2-4x/day, most commonly in the am and at bedtime. I have extensive neuropathic damage due to a demyelinating disease. I’ve found it very helpful esp because I try to avoid narcotic relief and NSAIDs are off-limits to me. Interestingly, it was first prescribed to me for depression related to the underlying disease being undiagnosed (but recognized) and worsening. After a year on a higher dose, I discontinued ALL Rx drugs and my symptoms were more clear cut and diagnosis was mostly solidified. I restarted gabapentin at a lower dose as it had no side effects, in me at least. I was astounded to learn last year that it had been reclassified as a narcotic, as it has no “high,” again, at least for me. I do think however that like many agents reputed to have psychoactive effects, neurontin is not easy to discontinue. I wouldn’t call it addictive, but I can understand that many people want to be able to stop a drug cold, and perhaps because my disease is hepatic, I understand better than most that the liver dislikes changes a lot. If you drink alcohol or caffeine, and stop consumption abruptly, you’ll feel both sick and anxious as your liver detoxes the remains of the usual drug—even the caffeine in a single cup of coffee, or something like Nutrasweet.
I don’t mean to drag the comments into a medical rabbit hole, and I truly see pharmaceutical companies are TOTALLY bad actors. I’ve suffered so much at the hands of “doctors” who thought prescribing drugs was the main point of medical practice that I see the rare medical benefit of a drug to be primarily an accidental occurrence. The drug companies are pushers.
I once had a consult with a “brilliant” anesthesiologist and brought a printout of every drug I’d ever been prescribed, complete with the diagnosis it was supposed to treat (I was 53 at the time). The list was six pages single spaced. In his 70s, a gray-haired “old hands” MD, his eyebrows went up and his jaw dropped. I had also had a full CYP450 panel done years before. I was after a narcotic that’s usually reserved for post-op situations. Seeing what a rare critter I was, the doc was fine with that, but pointed out something that had never occurred to me, and I’m pretty savvy for a layman—“Very unusual, but it’s what you were BORN with, not necessarily what’s functioning now. All these drugs thrown at you for years have no doubt done damage…” Do people understand that even a beer every day can screw up their liver to the point that a Benedryl can circulate through their liver for over two weeks? That an Ambien or a Tylenol can slow down renal function dramatically if they have a common hepatic gene variant? I doubt it.
I came across this which reminded me of how people now think they understand how treatments come to market. But they lack the background to know this. Even MDs seem to have forgotten. https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Testimony-Risch-2020-11-19.pdf
I hear laymen saying things like, “if it’s not double blind, it’s worthless data” with regard to treatment of Covid. Over and over pro-vaxx adherents parrot NIH and Bill Gates talking points as if they’re doctors themselves. But they’re not.
In the years that I chased diagnosis for my very rare disease, I was often mistaken for a nurse or doctor, and I’d have to explain that while I’d acquired a medical vocabulary in college (and applied to medical school) I had no formal medical education whatsoever.
Covid has done something similar to huge swaths of the population, unfortunately. It’s not a good thing but it can SEEM like a good thing, falling into the realm of a little knowledge being dangerous. The vast majority of people should never need much in the way of chronic medical care, let alone “maintenance drugs” but they’ll get them just the same because television tells them they should get them. Statins, painkillers, anti-histamines, vitamins, sleep drugs. My own nightmarish experiences with polypharmacy should be very rare, but it’s far too common. I’ve had the genetic testing to manage my issues but 99.9% of people haven’t.
I’m sure that vaccine mandates will translate into autoimmune disorders with even more complex pharma solutions.
These are all bad developments.