Tag Archives: eli lilly

WebMD, Eli Lilly and a quiz about depression

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the prolific writer of public letters who often assumes the mantle of health consumer advocate, is at it again. This time he’s taking on consumer health information giant WebMD, whose ties with Eli Lilly seem to stretch back for some time. At issue is a WebMD quiz that purported to determine a user’s risk of depression. The fishy part? Until WebMD modified the quiz following Grassley’s letter and other outcry, even users who answered “no” to every question would be given the warning that “You may be at risk for major depression.”

As Daniel Carlat points out on his blog, the following disclaimer appeared at the top of the page: “This content is selected and controlled by WebMD’s editorial staff and is funded by Lilly USA.” As Carlat points out, 9 of the 10 symptoms in the quiz are taken from standard diagnostic criteria, but the one that isn’t (which relates to physical pain) just happens to dovetail perfectly with the pain-relief market Lilly is trying to carve out for Cymbalta.

Because Lilly markets Cymbalta as the “go to” antidepressant for patients who have both depression and physical pain. This is not really a “depression screening test” at all. Instead, it is a “Cymbalta-requester” screening test.

WebMD is telling the public a big lie. The say that “this content is selected and controlled by WebMD’s editorial staff” when in fact the crucial aches and pains questions was selected by Eli Lilly’s marketing team to encourage patients to ask their doctors for Cymbalta.

Grassley’s letter requested that WebMD respond with the details of their relationship to Eil Lilly by March 4. I didn’t find any evidence that such a response has yet been received.

Feds take aim at off-label marketing

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jeanne Whalen writes that a recent string of charges against drug companies, including heavyweights like Pfizer, Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novartis, shows that a decade of aggressive prosecution hasn’t deterred them from some shady marketing practices. [Article require subscriber access]

Whalen says the promotion of off-label prescriptions is still at the core of the most common offenses, and that, according to says Patrick Burns, director of communications at Taxpayers Against Fraud, problems are most likely to crop up “when drug companies are promoting therapies that are similar to others on the market.”

pills
Photo by somegeekintn via Flickr.

Whalen reports that the Justice Department, which often relies on corporate whistleblowers to spark investigations in this arena, has made such cases a priority.

“Combating health care fraud is a top priority of the Department of Justice,” said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Division

Drug companies have apparently taken notice. GlaxoSmithKline recently started “capping its annual payments to U.S. doctors at $150,000 and publishing the figures” while AstraZeneca’s CEO said the crackdown had made pharmaceutical companies “more sensitive than we’ve ever been” when it comes to preventing illegal drug promotion. Whalen writes that these steps may not be enough.

But Shelley Slade, a former Justice Department lawyer who now represents corporate whistleblowers through the firm Vogel, Slade & Goldstein LLP, in Washington, D.C., said large criminal monetary penalties and civil settlements don’t appear to deter companies sufficiently. “It’s not going to stop until the government puts some of these executives in jail,” she said. “Many of these companies view the fines as a small fraction of what they have gained through illegal schemes, and just a cost of doing business.”

Sealed Seroquel documents hearing is Thursday

A closely watched hearing will take place in a federal courtroom in Orlando, Fla., tomorrow [Thursday] over the extent to which AstraZeneca should be forced to divulge internal documents filed in connection with product-liability litigation over its Seroquel antipsychotic. About 6,000 lawsuits have been consolidated and allege the drugmaker failed to adequately disclose that the pill can cause serious weight gain and diabetes.

At issue is whether thousands of pages of material should be unsealed. Typically, numerous documents are sealed at the outset of such litigation under agreements between attorneys for defendants and plaintiffs, in part, to speed along the proceedings. Companies also seek to have documents sealed to avoid publicity, investigations and additional lawsuits.

But earlier this month, Bloomberg News filed a motion to have some of the Seroquel documents unsealed, citing “the public’s right of access to judicial documents.” An AstraZeneca spokesman told BusinessWeek that releasing incomplete information could create a public health risk. However, Bloomberg argued that concerns about health risks are among the very reasons the documents should be unsealed.

Not surprisingly, the controversy is drawing parallels to the litigation over Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa, another antipsychotic linked to serious weight gain and diabetes. However, the Zyprexa lawsuits yielded an unexpected ruckus when David Egilman, a Brown University professor and an expert witness for the plaintiffs, leaked sealed Lilly documents to the media (background here).

Meanwhile, the Seroquel case is generating interest for yet another reason – allegations of sexual impropriety. An AstraZeneca employee, who was responsible for the drug in the United States, allegedly cavorted with a Seroquel researcher in the United Kingdom and a ghostwriter in the United States, according to court documents. You can read more about that here.

Update: AstraZeneca lawyer Stephen McConnell announced at the hear that AstraZeneca would release the documents, according to AmericanLawyer.com.