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Thursday, December 16, 2010
DOCTORS + BIG PHARMACY = MAN DEAD
Greed, money, power, big pharmaceuticals, and DEATH...this stinks!
After a man killed himself while taking an antipsychotic drug, the psychiatrists at the University of Minnesota who had given it to him were investigated. Now their colleagues are asking for the case to be re-examined.
The call, made in a letter sent last week to the university's board of regents, centres on a 2004 clinical trial in which Dan Markingson, a mentally ill man, committed suicide. The conduct of the trial may have been affected by financial conflicts of interest and the failure of the university to address warnings from the man's mother, claim Carl Elliott and colleagues at the university's Center for Bioethics in Minneapolis. Both the university and the researchers involved in the trial strenuously deny the allegations.
Markingson stabbed himself to death in the bath around six months after being enrolled in a university-run study of Seroquel, an antipsychotic drug marketed by AstraZeneca. He was being treated with the drug for delusions, including the belief that he was about to be summoned by a secret group and asked to murder people.
Elliott and colleagues claim that Markingson may not have been in a position to consent to joining the trial. They also believe that university psychiatrists did not respond adequately to letters from Markingson's mother, who for several months before his death had warned that her son was suicidal and asked to have him removed from the trial. In an article for US magazine Mother Jones, published this autumn, Elliott noted that researchers involved in the trial performed paid advisory and speaking work for AstraZeneca – although this is common practice in the research community. The company also funded the trial itself.
Charles Schulz, head of the university's department of psychiatry, says that he and colleagues were in no way influenced by AstraZeneca's funding for the trial, which was paid to the university, not the researchers themselves. He adds that the US Food and Drug Administration investigated the case in 2004 and cleared the institution of wrongdoing.
A lawsuit filed by Markingson's mother against the university also failed. "The case was dismissed by the judge in court, and has been reviewed by the Minnesota Medical Board and dismissed," says Schulz.
Elliott and colleagues acknowledge these previous investigations, but say that the suicide needs to be revisited in the light of the evidence about the financial relationship between AstraZeneca and the university, some of which has only come to light in the past two years.
"While it is understandable that some of our colleagues will have little interest in revisiting this case and the ethical issues it raises, we are persuaded that there is a disturbing and unjustifiable gap between how the university has responded to this death and the careful, critical investigation it warrants," the researchers write.