If you’re feeling sorry for the sad plight of the health insurance industry, you can take heart at the business as usual profitability of the pharmaceutical industry, another big winner in the Obama health reform legislation.The drug companies for years have enjoyed monopoly pricing due to patents which protect markets.But that’s not really enough to keep the shareholders and top executives happy. Industry profitability increasingly derives from making misleading sales pitches to doctors and getting a medicine approved for one purpose, then quietly urging doctors to prescribe it—off label— for something else. A twofer.
Take the case of Seroquel, an anti psychotic drug made by AstraZeneca, a company best known for Nexium, the medicine for acid reflux.The company currently faces 9,000 lawsuits which claim the it did not properly warn users Seroquel could cause diabetes, high blood sugar,and weight gain,among other things.Earlier this month Bloomberg recounted this situation replete with company denials, double talk and “who me?’’ defense:
AstraZeneca’s “global strategy is to demonstrate to consumers that Seroquel has a weight-neutral profile,” Debbie Holdsworth, a marketing official, wrote in a “dear colleague” letter dated May 14, 2001. The document was produced during a pretrial examination of former executive John Patterson“If 45 percent of patients gained significant weight in a year, how could that be weight-neutral?” patient attorney Ed Blizzard asked Patterson, citing a internal 1997 e-mail written by an AstraZeneca doctor, at a hearing in Orlando Oct. 5.
“If you look at the population as a whole, some are below weight, some are average weight and some are above weight, so that taken together, the effect of Seroquel is weight neutral,” Patterson said. Some underweight patients may even be helped in gaining weight by using the drug, he said.Patterson, who reported directly to AstraZeneca’s chief executive officer, was paid more than $1 million at one point during his tenure at the company. He retired April 1 as executive director of product development, and is the highest- ranking AstraZeneca executive to testify in open court in lawsuits claiming the company withheld information about the risks of Seroquel.