Tamiflu probe led by industry-sponsored researcher

15 March is World Consumer Rights Day and this year Consumers International and consumer organisations around the world are calling on national governments to end unscrupulous marketing practices by the pharmaceutical industry.

Japan does not allow allow advertising of prescription drugs, and there are also other rules that protect consumers and patients here. For example, drug companies cannot use comparative language ("X is better than Y" or "P works faster than Q").

Meanwhile, Japan's Ministry of Health says 54 people have died so far after taking Tamiflu, according to Reuters.

Rokuro Hama, a medical doctor who heads a Japanese watchdog group on the side effects of drugs, said the ratio of those showing abnormal behavior is four times higher among those who took Tamiflu if limited to the period immediately after taking the drug.

Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG, which produces Tamiflu, also known generically as oseltamivir, has denied a link between the medication and the deaths, adding that influenza itself could cause psychiatric problems, says Reuters.

So is Tamiflu safe? Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., the pharmaceutical firm that imports the controversial drug made regular donations of about 1.5 million yen a year to a professor who heads a governmental panel that studies side effects from the drug. Professor Shunpei Yokota from Yokohama City University lead the probe that announced in 2006 that it found there had been no causal relationship between Tamiflu and abnormal behavior in those who take the drug, according to Mainichi. A classic case of the fox guarding the chicken? You decide.

(Photo from Jouhoublog, a blog about drug approvals and pharmaceutical affairs in Japan)

Update: Today on March 20, NHK World reports that Tamiflu side-effects prompt NPO reaction:

Families of people who died from abnormal behavior have asked the government to ban the sale of the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Five groups made the request to the health ministry on Monday. The groups include non-profit organizations studying the harmful effects of drugs, and a group of families whose relatives died after taking Tamiflu. They asked the government to stop the sale of Tamiflu, and to issue a stronger warning on the side effects of the drug.

They also asked the government to remove a professor from a research panel on the drug's side effects. The professor had accepted 10 million yen, or about 85,000 US dollars, in donations from a pharmaceutical firm that sells Tamiflu. They claim the professor did not tell the truth in his report, which said that there is no causal link between the abnormal behavior and the drug.

The ministry is advising people not to leave influenza patients alone for at least 2 days, whether or not the patient has taken Tamiflu. But the 5 organizations say the government's actions are insufficient, and that stricter measures are necessary to prevent future cases.

Japanese link with video here.


Pandabonium said…
Another interesting question is whether it is effective in reducing total fatalities - different from reducing the number of infections. And, at what cost?

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