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The finger on the invisible hand

FDA pulls activist doctor from panel

Saturday, November 13, 2004

On Thursday, fearing a safety risk to the general public, the FDA acted quickly and decisively to pull Dr. Curt Furberg off an FDA panel. The panel plans to study the damaging effects of drugs in the COX-2 family, such Vioxx. Furberg suspected something was up when received a phone call asking if he had made hotel reservations yet and if his plane tickets were refundable. To him, the reason was clear. The FDA just didn’t want him anymore.

the FDA had seemed thrilled to have a serious relationship with a doctor

At first, the FDA had seemed thrilled to have a serious relationship with a doctor. Why this sudden cold shoulder? Curt Furberg was pretty sure he knew the reason why, “The reason was that I had expressed my views publicly.” Furberg has left several messages on the FDA’s answering machine, and while he knows they are there listening, they refuse to pick up the phone or call back.

Despite their reluctance to answer his calls, a Deputy Director of the FDA stated it was "very very common" to end an FDA relationship this way, especially if a conflict of interest was suspected. He went on to say that it was the FDA's fault, not Ferburg’s. It was just that the FDA has found, in the past, they sometimes have different goals than their experts. This puts the expert in an uncomfortable place and the strain on the relationship eventually causes the Agency and expert drift apart.

The FDA has been hurt before

And there may truly be a case for conflict of interest, because Dr. Furberg, this “Expert” not only knows something about this class of drugs, but has actually done a study on one of them to prove exactly what the FDA is looking into. "Basically, we showed that Bextra is no different than Vioxx, and Pfizer is trying to suppress that information,” commented Dr. Furberg. Furberg added that he didn’t mean to put any pressure on the FDA, and that any intercourse he expected in the panel, was purely intellectual.

But, could the FDA’s cold shoulder to Ferburg be more sinister than a simple drifting apart? Could it mean that they are actually in bed with someone else? Pfizer definitely seems displeased with Dr. Ferburg’s latest study. Pfizer stopped short of calling Dr. Ferburg’s work total crap, but dismissed the Bextra study as "unsubstantiated conclusions." While it seems like Pfizer wants nothing more that the FDAs approval, we can only hope that the FDA is going into this relationship with their eyes open. The FDA has been hurt before, and if this one ends badly, the FDA may be dealing with trust issues for years.

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