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More on Crestor and AstraZeneca – With Thanks to Dr. Jeffrey Dach

Posted Dec 02 2008 1:47am

I recently received a very thought-provoking comment from Jeffrey Dach, MD, an extremely conscientious and informative integrative physician and blogger, who works hard to get the truth out about pharmaceutical company duplicity AND about holistic and integrative treatments that the mainstream media often gives short shrift to.

Dr. Dach was commenting on my posting about the JUPITER/Crestor/AstraZeneca study, which concluded that Crestor lowers levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) in people with normal cholesterol levels, who may (or may not) still be at risk for heart attacks. You may read my posting, "Statins (Crestor) for Everyone? Or Could Diet and Nutritional Supplements Do the Job Better?", here.

Dr. Dach’s comment was eye-opening. He wrote:

“It appears that journalists have a short memory. 

“Only four year ago, Dr. David Graham, associate director in the FDA's Office of Drug Safety gave senate testimony that Crestor was one of five drugs with safety concerns. The drug causes muscle breakdown and renal failure.”

Dr. Dach then pointed my readers to an article he posted on his own website, about the same AstraZeneca-financed JUPITER study, but -– probably because the link was long -- it didn’t show up in its entirety in the space provided in my comments section.

I am reproducing the entire link here; I urge you to read Dr. Dach’s posting. Like most of the information on his blog, it is well worth reading.

Dr. Dach’s Comment Reminded Me

I am very grateful to Dr. Dach because, while I had read about Dr. Graham’s November, 2004, testimony that Crestor was a dangerous drug, I had not included it in my posting. Thanks to Dr. Dach, you can now read about it.

But Dr. Dach’s comment reminded me that there is more information that I didn’t include in my posting, and it has to do with AstraZeneca’s ethics.

On February 14, 2007, there was news all over the Internet that AstraZeneca had pledged $10 million to the American Cancer Society. The gift was hailed as “one of the largest gifts in the organization's history — to help provide one-on-one support for cancer patients in U.S. hospitals.” (Here is the press announcement, as it appears on the Fox News site.)

The wording of this article was exactly the same on numerous sites throughout the world -- a dead giveaway that the “news” of AstraZeneca’s largesse was most probably company-generated, via a press release sent out on the wire. You may find this “news,” with this exact wording on several sites. Here is one example, but there are many others:

“ATLANTA -- A drug company is pledging $10 million to The American Cancer Society - one of the largest gifts in the organization's history - to help provide one-on-one support for cancer patients in U.S. hospitals, the organization announced Wednesday.

“The unusual gift is from AstraZeneca PLC, an international pharmaceutical company.”

When I read this “news,” my researcher’s/investigator’s nose -- as well as my public relations professional's nose -- told me that something was a bit “off.” So I did some research. What I found was mind-boggling. I found that the timing of this gift was, indeed, suspicious. I set out to find out why.

As it turns out, there had been at least three instances -– all reported in the media between November 3, 2006 and February 14, 2007 (a 13 week period) --  where AstraZeneca desperately needed to address its public relations disasters:

1)   On January 22, 2007, just three weeks before AstraZeneca decided to exhibit its huge gift to the Cancer Society, the New York Times had revealed that the FDA had send the pharmaceutical company a letter 2 years earlier ordering AstraZeneca (to quote the NY Times ) to “‘immediately cease’” a ‘misleading superiority claim’ in a 2005 TV commercial.” The NY Times article continued: The ad said AstraZeneca’s Crestor was ‘clearly the best’ in a ‘head to head’ test with the three largest-selling cholesterol drugs.”

See the New York Times article,  “Showdown Looms in Congress Over Drug Advertising on TV.”

Not the greatest PR for the drug company.  But I looked further, and there was more:

2) On December 28, 2006, less than a month before the NY Times exposé – and a mere six weeks before the Cancer Society gift -- Bloomberg News had announced that:

“London-based AstraZeneca Plc, the maker of the third-best-selling antipsychotic, Seroquel, stands accused in more than 200 federal and state lawsuits of concealing the diabetes risk faced by users. AstraZeneca is ‘vigorously defending’ the cases, said spokesman Jim Minnick in an e-mailed statement.”

To read the entire article, go to the Bloomberg website.

And yes, there was even more.

3)  Yet again, another PR fire for AstraZeneca to put out -– this time, from a November 3rd, 2006 story, which was sent out on several newswires:

“PHILADELPHIA -- California's top law-enforcement official is investigating drug makers' marketing practices for blockbuster anti-psychotic medications. At least three pharmaceutical companies, AstraZeneca PLC, Eli Lilly & Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., have disclosed they received subpoenas from the California attorney general's office seeking information about their respective anti-psychotics. The drugs are approved to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.”

You may read the entire article, “California investigates anti-psychotics,”  on the site.

(I would like to thank the indefatigable Vera Sharav. All three references cited here are from her Alliance for Human Research Protection blog.)

I want to make clear that I am not saying with certainty that AstraZeneca’s largesse was entirely a response to bad PR. I am saying that it seems suspicious to me.

So, as you can see, I agree with Dr. Dach: He is absolutely right to be wary. I am, too. Thank goodness there are other people out there online, who are dedicated to getting the truth to the public! Thank you, Dr. Dach!

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