For drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, the 17-page article in the New England Journal of Medicine represented a coup. The 2006 report described a trial that compared three diabetes drugs and concluded that Avandia, the company’s new drug, performed best.
“We now have clear evidence from a large international study that the initial use of [Avandia] is more effective than standard therapies,” a senior vice president of GlaxoSmithKline, Lawson Macartney, said in a news release.
What only careful readers of the article would have gleaned is the extent of the financial connections between the drugmaker and the research. The trial had been funded by GlaxoSmithKline, and each of the 11 authors had received money from the company. Four were employees and held company stock. The other seven were academic experts who had received grants or consultant fees from the firm.
Whether these ties altered the report on Avandia may be impossible for readers to know. But while sorting through the data from more than 4,000 patients, the investigators missed hints of a danger that, when fully realized four years later, would lead to Avandia’s virtual disappearance from the United States: