Being Toxic’s been on my mind this week. And no, not the pre-breakdown sparkle-Britney song that makes it way onto every “treadmill” playlist that I have (there, I admitted it) but the kind of toxic that sends stocks tail-spinning and media anchors hawking stories about deadly-drugs.
This week, a news report came out that two people had died of pancreatitis while taking the diabetes drug Byetta (sold by Eli Lilly and Amylin), and that there had been 36 reported cases of pancreatitis in patients taking Byetta. The FDA said that they are going to require a new, stronger warning on the label. On the surface, that doesn’t seem very good, does it?
I was curious about this, so I poked around for some information. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the prevalence of acute pancreatitis in the US population is 17 in 100000. Serious cases are 3.4 per 100000. What’s the rate of Byetta patients? 5.1 per 100000 people. I find it hard to believe that those numbers are meaningfully different. Confound that data even more: on one hand, pancreatitis is more common in diabetics (regardless of treatment) and but on the other, there is the possibility that the number of Byetta-related pancreatitis cases (mild ones) are under-reported.
So, where are you left as a consumer, citizen and potential patient?
Is Byetta causing pancreatitis in patients? – Probably not.
Could Byetta be trouble for people with a history of pancreatitis? – Maybe.
Will we know one way or another anytime soon? Most assuredly not – toxicology is probably the most inexact science in the whole pharmaceutical business
Will the FDA and the companies involved be working overtime to cover themselves against any litigation and media onslaught? – You bet’cha.
I think I’m gonna go for a run.