Journal assails drugmaker for halting verapamil trial

JAMA prints partial study, anti-Pharmacia editorial

April 23, 2003|By Thomas H. Maugh II | Thomas H. Maugh II,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In a highly unusual action, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association is publishing today incomplete results from a prematurely aborted drug trial, along with a scathing editorial blasting the drug's manufacturer for halting the trial.

The huge trial enrolled 16,602 patients in 15 countries in a five-year effort to determine if the anti-hypertension drug verapamil is better than cheaper diuretics and other drugs. But Pharmacia Corp., which manufactures verapamil under the trade name Covera, ended the study two years early, before researchers could determine whether the drug provided any possible benefit.

The company broke a covenant with volunteers in the trial, who "were not only deprived of personal benefit ... but also the social benefit of genuine scientific contributions," wrote the co-authors of the editorial, Dr. Bruce Psaty of the University of Washington and Dr. Drummond Rennie, a deputy JAMA editor.

"What the company apparently treated as a simple commercial matter rendered the original promise to participate in research that contributes substantively to medical knowledge impotent, useless, and fraudulent," they said.

Dr. Henry R. Black of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, who led the study, said the company told him the trial was being stopped for "commercial reasons," with no elaboration.

A spokeswoman for Pfizer Inc., which purchased Pharmacia last week, said she did not have enough information about the study to comment on it.

The company had spent about $50 million on the study when it was halted.

Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, the editor of JAMA, said that she could understand the company's action from an economic viewpoint, but that it was wrong from an ethical viewpoint.

Thomas H. Maugh II writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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