Thursday 21 January 2010

Another obesity drug taken off the shelves

The National Obesity Forum, the 'independent charity' has taken another blow today, as the BBC reports:

Top obesity drug sibutramine being withdrawn

A leading obesity drug is being withdrawn from use in the UK amid fears it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Dr June Raine, of the MHRA, said: "Evidence suggests that there is an increased risk of non-fatal heart attacks and strokes with this medicine that outweigh the benefits of weight loss, which is modest and may not be sustained in the long term after stopping treatment."

This is a blow for the National Obesity Forum because they have previously defended sibutramine (AKA Reductil) against claims that it has fatal side-effects, as in this press release:

NOF continues to view sibutramine as a safe and effective treatment against rising tide of obesity

The National Obesity Forum (NOF) today confirmed its view on sibutramine (Reductil) as a safe and effective treatment option for medically obese patients and supported the Medicines Control Agency (MCA) statement that: "Patients currently treated with sibutramine can continue to take their medicines as usual."

And when the evidence mounted, NOF chairman David Haslam insisted that there was no need to ban it.

"This is information we need to take very seriously because we should not be prescribing it to the wrong people," the Daily Express quoted Dr David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum, as saying.

He added: "Anything that lapses blood pressure control could have side-effects.

"Anyone who has had a heart attack or a stroke should stop taking it but those who haven't should be assured there are no danger signals for them."

This mirrors the situation in 2008 when the weight-loss drug Rimonabant AKA Acomplia was approved for NHS use, despite fears that it caused suicide, and despite it having already been banned in the USA. Even its manufacturers, Sanofi-Aventis, found that it doubled the risk of psychiatric disorders. The National Obesity Forum, on the other hand, warmly welcomed its approval:

"This is a very good drug, and there are very many people who have tried everything else, including other drugs, with little success, who might benefit from it." 

Once approved, it took only a few months for the European Medicines Agency to urge doctors not to prescribe it, citing safety fears, and it was taken off the shelves. Still the (new) NOF chairman was eager to defend it:

Dr Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: "My patients were doing very well on it, and they will now have to stop and come off it."

Why such eagerness to defend these drugs? Other public health spokesmen have condemned them or been luke warm at most. Could it have anything to do with the fact that the pharmaceutical industry gives it thousands of pounds a year?

Or is it because Big Pharma paid for its website?

Or is it that Big Pharma almost entirely funds its annual conference?

Dr Matt Capehorn, GP, founder of Rotherham Obesity Institute and trustee of NOF presented a Sanofi-Aventis sponsored lecture...

Prof Colin Waine, Chair of NOF presented a Roche sponsored lecture entitled: ‘Weighing Up The Burden of Obesity’...

Dr Terry Maguire, Queen’s University, Belfast presented a GSK sponsored lecture titled: ‘Supporting overweight and obese patients; What role can pharmacy play?’

Prof Dr Luc Van Gaal, Professor of Medicine, Department of Endocrinology, Diabetology and Metabolism, Antwerp University Hospital delivered an insightful presentation, sponsored by Abbott...

Now, I have no problem with industry funded pressure groups or charities. God knows, the government funds enough astro-turf 'grass-roots groups' to push its policies and industry is, if anything, under-represented. But I don't believe I have ever read a media report involving the NOF which mentions the fact that they are overwhelmingly funded by Big Pharma. 

Surely, in the interests of transparency, this conflict of interest should be explained whenever they are encouraging the sale of drugs, especially when they may well be deadly.


Mark Wadsworth said...

I looked into the NOF two years ago and blogged accordingly.

Sorry if you missed that one. As a general rule, everybody who ever gets reported as saying anything in the MSM is a fakecharity or industry lobby group.

Ben said...

It seems that we are steering towards a society which tends to replace "natural" products with artificial substitutes.
Replace tobacco with NRT, sugar with sweeteners, food with obesity drugs, all the while urging to live naturally ...