Tamiflu – does not work, costs a lot

A stunning indictment of Tamiflu by The Atlantic. A trail of false evidence and marketing led the US alone to spend $1.5 billion on stock piling the drug for pandemic preparation for things like SARS, and the whole world over $3 billion since H1N1 (swine flu) emerged.

This week, the British medical journal BMJ published a multi-part investigation that confirms that the scientific evidence just isn’t there to show that Tamiflu prevents serious complications, hospitalization, or death in people that have the flu.

Only 2 out of 10 studies backing Tamiful were ever published in peer reviewed journals, and when they contacted those authors:

One author said he had lost track of the data when he moved offices and the files appeared to have been discarded. The other said he’d never actually seen the data himself, and directed the Cochrane team to go directly to the company.

But the worst evidence of all for me was this admission:

two former employees of Adis International, a large communications company, came forward with documents showing they had ghostwritten some of the published studies of Tamiflu. One of the ghostwriters told the BMJ, “The Tamiflu accounts had a list of key messages that you had to get in. It was run by the [Roche] marketing department and you were answerable to them. In the introduction . . . I had to say what a big problem influenza is. I’d also have to come to the conclusion that Tamiflu was the answer.”

Worse yet – is the supposed cure making things worse for patients?

According to an FDA spokesperson, side effects may include potentially fatal heart problems. If the drug is going to be used to prevent death, it seems reasonable to ask whether or not its potentially deadly side effects are outweighed by potential benefits. We asked the FDA whether it had required Roche to conduct an additional trial or trials looking at whether or not, on balance, the drug reduces more serious complications than it causes. This week, a spokesperson reported back that there has been no such request made to Roche.

I’ll leave it to The Atlantic to summarise:

Tamiflu may not be doing much good for patients with the flu who take it, and it might be causing harm.

Governments, public health agencies, and international bodies such as the World Health Organization, have all based their decisions to recommend and stockpile Tamiflu on studies that had seemed independent, but had in fact been funded by the company and were authored almost entirely by Roche employees or paid academic consultants.

Stunning investigative research by both The Atlantic and the BMJ. Well done.

About Lance Wiggs

@lancewiggs
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3 Responses to Tamiflu – does not work, costs a lot

  1. Pierre says:

    Interesting. I had a chat about Tamiflu with my brother (he’s a doctor) last week. In his opinion it is a very good drug but it has to be taken in a very specific window of time. Take it too early or too late and it won’t help you.

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  2. Liz says:

    you need to install the tweetmeme plugin :)

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  3. mikee says:

    No suprises there on marketing tactics of pharmaceuticals.. I had a friend working for a big pharmaceutical in London. He would write the drug reviews “on behalf” of the specialists that were trialling them.

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