Senate report alleges GSK has used intimidation over Avandia woes

Senator Max Baucus and Senator Chuck Grassley. Source: USA Today
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have filed a report in the Congressional Record detailing how GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) employees allegedly intimidated a scientist who raised concerns over its Type 2 diabetes drug, Avandia.

The Senate Finance Committee initially raised these concerns about retaliation in a letter on May 21, to which the London-based GSK quickly issued a press release to repudiate the allegation.

According to the report filed on Monday, “internal [GSK] company documents seem to contradict that claim and reveal what appears to be an orchestrated plan to stifle the opinion of Dr. John Buse, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina who specializes in diabetes.”

The report continues its allegations, stating that “GSK’s attempt at intimidation appears to have been triggered by speeches that Dr. Buse gave at scientific meetings in 1999. During those meetings, Dr. Buse suggested that, aside from its benefit of controlling glucose levels in diabetics, Avandia may carry cardiovascular risks.”

Buse spoke about the company’s intimidation at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing earlier this year. After his testimony, Baucus and Grassley sent letters to GSK and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill asking for documents, contacts and communications between the organizations related to Avandia. 

The report states that, based on the documents the committee has received, “it is apparent that the original allegations, regarding Dr. Buse and GSK’s attempts at silencing him are true; according to relevant emails, GSK executives labeled Buse a ‘renegade’ and silenced his concerns about Avandia by complaining to his superiors and threatening a lawsuit.”

The report even alleges that GSK executives, including CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier, were involved in “plans to silence Dr. Buse.” Garnier denied having any knowledge of alleged intimidation of Dr. Buse in a July interview with The Philadelphia Enquirer.

On the Senate floor, Grassley stressed the importance of the report, stating that “attacks on medical researchers by the pharmaceutical industry must stop. And stop now.” He also encouraged any pharmaceutical whistleblowers to call his office, and concluded by saying that until the “practice ends, I want to let America's scientists know that I am very interested in their concerns.”