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Cardiologist to testify at FDA hearing:
Animal tests implicated in Vioxx tragedy
16 Feb 2005

Numerous mouse experiments showed heart-protective effects for COX-2 inhibitors allowing killer painkillers on market

On February 17, John J. Pippin, M.D., FA.C.C., will testify before Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials and present a new report detailing how experiments on mice, dogs, and other animals misled scientists and ultimately contributed to a tragic outcome for human patients exposed to Vioxx and other drugs. Dr. Pippin will represent the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

PCRM's report reveals that Vioxx and other COX-2 drugs actually had a heart-protective effect in mice and other animals, exactly opposite of how the drugs later performed in humans. The report also reveals that once clinical trials started showing that the drugs caused heart problems in humans, the pharmaceutical companies ignored this information and instead pointed to the animal tests as "evidence" that the drugs were safe. As Dr. Pippin illustrates in the report, the Vioxx animal testing debacle is not unique. Over the years, millions of patients have been exposed to harmful drugs, such as Rezulin and Baycol, that seemed safe in tests on mice, dogs, rats, monkeys, horses, and other animals.

"Reliance on animal tests enabled the FDA to approve Vioxx," says Dr. Pippin. "It is time to turn to newer, more reliable human-based methods such as studying drug metabolism using human liver subcellular fractions." Liver toxicity is the major reason for drug re-labeling and withdrawal, and it often does not show up in dogs and other animals.

WHO: Cardiologist, John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., representing PCRM
WHAT: Testimony at FDA hearing on Vioxx and related drugs.
WHEN: Thursday February 17, 2005 between 1 and 3 p.m.
WHERE: The Ballrooms at the Hilton DC North, 620 Perry Pkwy., Gaithersburg, MD.

For an interview with Dr. Pippin call Jeanne S. McVey, on-site cell phone, (415) 509-1833.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, especially good nutrition. PCRM also conducts clinical research studies, opposes unethical human experimentation, and promotes alternatives to animal research.

Contact: Jeanne Stuart McVey
jeannem@pcrm.org
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine


Lesson of Vioxx: Animal tests aren't enough
John J. Pippin, PHYSICIANS COMMITTEE FOR RESPONSIBLE MEDICINE
Friday, November 19, 2004
http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/11/19vioxx_edit.html


Call it the little yellow pill that broke the camel's back. For years, health authorities have essentially shrugged off the public's growing concerns about pharmaceutical safety. Then came Vioxx.

On Sept. 30, the pharmaceutical giant Merck announced that long-term use of this anti-inflammatory medication - taken by 20 million Americans since 1999 - could double the risk of heart attack or stroke.

So Vioxx was yanked off the market, and the federal government finally swung into action. Congress is now investigating how this dangerous drug ever reached the pharmacy. So is the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department.

But are they asking the right questions?

So far, one key problem isn't getting much attention. Unsafe drugs threaten consumers partly because the Food and Drug Administration focuses more on misleading animal tests than on reliable clinical trials like the one that unmasked the dangers of Vioxx.

Every drug approved for human use by the FDA was shown to be safe in animal studies. But as a cardiologist, I can tell you that animal testing never revealed the cardiovascular risk posed by Vioxx. Indeed, some animal experiments actually led researchers to believe the drug could protect the cardiovascular system.

For example, a 2002 experiment on mice found that Vioxx and another related drug significantly reduced atherosclerosis in the animals. The researchers concluded that such drugs could be a potential therapy for the prevention of atherosclerosis.

Meanwhile, clinical research was uncovering the truth. In 2001, Cleveland Clinic researchers found that Vioxx posed a significantly greater heart attack risk than naproxen, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory.

Unfortunately, the FDA didn't take such concerns seriously enough. The agency asked Merck to add warning language to the drug's label, but Vioxx stayed on the market until Merck voluntarily recalled it. As a result, tens of thousands of people may have suffered related heart attacks or strokes.

That's shocking, but similar episodes abound. In the mid-1990s, doctors began noticing that many people taking the weight-loss drugs fenfluramine and phentermine, used in the fen-phen combination, developed a dangerous thickening of their heart valves. Fenfluramine appeared safe in animal tests but proved dangerous to humans.

Other recent examples of dangerous drugs approved on the basis of animal studies include Seldane (for allergies), Rezulin (for diabetes) and Baycol (for cholesterol).

Even basic toxicology tests on animals aren't serving us well. The Multicenter Evaluation of In-Vitro Cytotoxicity program found that rat and mouse tests were only about 65 percent accurate in predicting lethal blood concentrations of chemicals in humans. But a combination of human-cell tests and computer modeling predicted toxicity with 80 percent precision.

Why does animal testing fail? One reason is basic biology. Physiological differences between species can make animals like rats a poor model for how a drug will work in a human.

That's why, historically, animal tests have been a boon to companies making unsafe products. The classic example is the tobacco industry, which defended the healthfulness of cigarettes for years by pointing to inconclusive animal experiments.

Drug companies shouldn't be allowed to use the same crutch. As a first step to keeping consumers safe, the FDA must stop pretending that animal tests accurately predict results in humans.

Some superior alternatives already exist, and the development of others must be a priority. The government must also improve its monitoring of drugs that have already been approved. For example, the FDA should require all medical personnel to report potential adverse drug reactions, instead of relying on voluntary reporting by perceptive physicians.

Celebrex and Bextra, two potentially dangerous drugs in the same class as Vioxx that may be chosen as alternatives, deserve particularly close examination.

Good science could save consumers from the next Vioxx - but that won't happen unless the government stops relying on antiquated animal tests.

This article was distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune New Service.

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