bmartin: June 2008 Archives
There are no optimistic forward-looking statements here.
Today, Myriad Genetics announced that its experimental agent tarenflurbil (Flurizan) failed to affect cognition or activities of daily living in early Alzheimer's disease, the primary endpoints of a large (N = 1600), 18-month, phase 3 trial. Tarenflurbil is an NSAID enantiomer of flurbiprofen. The company's CEO reported that, consequently, the development of the compound would be discontinued.
This news follows on the heels of the missed primary endpoints in a phase 2 trial of bapineuzumab in mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease, which were nevertheless spun as favorably as possible by developers Elan and Wyeth.
With the exceptions of "St. Elsewhere" and "Scrubs," both of which reasonably captured the high-flying absurdities of medical training, I've rarely watched medical dramas. The aversion had been based partly on time constraints but mostly on eye-rolling inaccuracies, like when the impossibly trained Mandy Patinkin went directly from performing a heart transplant to separating conjoined twins on "Chicago Hope."
I've also had an aversion to most documentary-type medical programs—probably for the same reason that a short-order cook wouldn't watch a reality-based show called "Diner" in his downtime. Nevertheless, when a TV series calls itself the venerably hip "Hopkins," it's hard to ignore. According to the show's website, this documentary-type medical program advertises "an intimate look at the men and women who call The Johns Hopkins* Hospital their home." (At this point, I assume—rightly, it turns out—that the referenced men and women are the hospital's physicians and not its long-term inpatients.) The first of 6 episodes aired on ABC last Thursday but is also available for online viewing.
Depicting a world where health care costs and insurance matters don't exist,† the premier installment of "Hopkins" showcases the work of 3 physicians: the hospital's first female urology resident (ahem, both Duke and U Penn had their first female urology residents more than 20 years ago), a remarkable migrant farm worker turned neurosurgeon, and a cardiothoracic surgeon whose marriage is falling apart. And while the show clearly attempts to emphasize the real poignancy of their real work—which is actually made less real by the cloying use of singer-songwriter tracks‡—it inadvertently shows how boneheaded the best of us can be when attempting to connect with patients. For instance, the neurosurgeon delivers the not-so-reassuring, "There's a fine line between life and death," to a clearly anxious man who is about to undergo resection of an undefined brain tumor. And the CT surgeon attempts to apologize to a woman in the ER who just endured the pain of a chest tube with, "Are we still friends?" Her reaction, or lack of it, pretty much says the accurate, "We were never friends."
Then there's the filming of the CT surgeon's home life, or what's left of it, to add personal drama that's evidently characteristic of "ER" or Grey's Anatomy." The problem—and we've become desensitized to this fact with the proliferation of reality-based shows—is that the pain of his young children, like that of the Hopkins patients, is indeed real. Which begs the question: It's one thing to embrace the filming of your medical practice, but why on God's green would you subject your children's divorce-induced anguish to the TV camera?
* Of course, we can't forget the capitalized "The" in front of "Johns Hopkins," anymore than we can forget it in front of "New England Journal of Medicine."
† To its credit, "Hopkins" did show how a patient with a documented brain tumor had to wait several weeks for an appointment with a neurosurgeon.
‡ I'm reminded here of John Belushi smashing the guitar of the folk singer on the stairs of the Delta House.
Ripe for a decent remake, 1973's The Day of the Jackal is still excellent entertainment. Based on Frederick Forsyth's popular novel, the cinematic hunt for the would-be assassin of Charles de Gaulle is directed by one of the great, versatile directors of old (or older) Hollywood, Fred Zinnemann (Oklahoma!, High Noon). The English actor Edward Fox, probably best known for his role as the Jackal, shows the right amount of slickness, sinew, and detachment as the one-minded hitman.
P.S. See if you can spot a young Derek Jacobi (hey, he doesn't stutter!) in a supporting role.
And the Congressional letters just keep on comin'.
This time the target is Murry Kopelow, MD, chief executive of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), the organization that bestows accreditation on MECCs, medical societies, and universities to deliver certified CME. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, sent a letter June 20 (link courtesy of Pharmalot) as part of an ongoing investigation to determine the influence that pharma has on CME. The contents of the letter indicate that Senator Kohl and the Committee have much to learn.
As the Committee continues its examination of the relationship between physicians and pharmaceutical companies, we have become concerned with reports that pharmaceutical companies are increasingly [emphases added] using continuing medical education (CME) events as a vehicle to increase the market for their products.
The opposite is true. Thanks largely to heavy fines exacted by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for off-label promotion,* pharma has become decreasingly involved in the development of content for industry-sponsored CME. In my MECC experience during the last several years, pharma has continued to play a decidedly hands-off role in the development of CME programs for which they provide financial support. Some companies have even gone so far as to recuse themselves entirely of reviewing the content (even for medical-legal purposes) before the program is released publicly.
According to the [ACCME] 2006 annual report, commercial support for CME activities accounted for $1.2 million, or half of the budget for CME courses in the United States.
For what it's worth, the most recent number may actually be a little higher, accounting for 60% of the US CME budget.
Of particular concern are instances where drug companies use CME courses to encourage physicians to use their products for potentially controversial medical practice. For example, it has come to the Committee's attention that one pharmaceutical company, which produces an anti-herpes drug, sponsors CME events which promote testing all pregnant women for herpes.
Senator Kohl may consider this nitpicking, but how does a CME program on pregnancy concern senior care? Couldn't the Senator or the Committee's investigators find a more relevant and objectionable CME program?
In any event, it appears that Senator Kohl is referring to GlaxoSmithKline's support of at least one Medscape-produced CME program ("Genital Herpes and Pregnancy"), which expired more than a year ago. GSK is the maker of valacyclovir (Valtrex), which is indicated for "the treatment or suppression of genital herpes [HSV] in immunocompetent individuals and for the suppression of recurrent genital herpes in HIV-infected individuals."
The Medscape program was delivered by Zane Brown, MD, Professor of OB-GYN at the University of Washington, and Serdar Ural, MD, then of U Penn, who (along with the accredited bodies of Medscape and the Medical Education Collaborative) are responsible for the program's content. Brown, in particular, urged HSV testing of all women during early pregnancy, which is based on (according to the program) his data published in the NEJM in 1997, JAMA in 2003, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2004, and Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2005. Also Brown's experience with a newborn's death caused by congenital herpes (shown in the program) is probably enough for any doctor to mandate HSV testing for all pregnant women in his/her practice.
However, routine testing for herpes in pregnancy is not recommended by any scientific evidence or any national expert panel. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the United States Preventive Services Task Force all reject prenatal herpes testing due to the dearth of evidence that exists to recommend routine screening and the potential harm to many low-risk women and fetuses from the side effects of antiviral therapy.
Drs. Brown and Ural may disagree with the Committee (and again, shouldn't we be talking about conditions that affect the aging?) that "routine testing...is not recommended by any scientific evidence." And while it is true that the ACOG, the CDC, and the US Preventive Services Task Force do not recommend routine HSV testing for all pregnant women, this may be a point on which obstetricians reasonably disagree. For instance, in the Medscape program, the majority of program participants (64%) said that they do offer HSV testing to all of their pregnant patients. Dr. Brown also offers the following explanation about ACOG's recommendations to not routinely screen for HSV: "A reason that ACOG is reluctant to issue a new bulletin is because they are concerned about the medical-legal ramifications of widespread screening. On the other hand, I would just ask you to consider a woman whose baby develops a case of neonatal herpes..."
I am troubled by any attempt to persuade physicians to use a drug treatment for any reason other than the patient's condition and the drug's effectiveness in treating it.
Senator Kohl, at least as far as the Medscape program is concerned, appears to be missing its point. The program (as far as I read it) stresses the detection of subclinical HSV during pregnancy to reduce the risk of congenital HSV (which, at the risk of repeating myself, isn't relevant to the aging). Senator Kohl is also probably out of his league here and out of line when it comes to questioning the diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations of physicians (particularly academic physicians)—even if recommended treatment is off-label (which is any physician's prerogative, even duty). I certainly wouldn't want to get into a debate with Dr. Brown on this particular issue.
Therefore, it was with great interest that the Committee took note of the ACCME's credentialing standards and practices for CME courses.
In an effort to better understand the ACCME's credentialing standards and practices for CME courses, please provide us with the following documentation and information.
1.) a copy and written description of the accreditation process for CME courses;
2.) any criteria the ACCME uses, as part of the accreditation process, regarding the scientific validity of course content;
3.) any mechanisms that ACCME has in place to ensure that no undue influence by any industry is being exerted through CME courses; and
4.) any further plans the ACCME may have in place to develop such mechanisms.
Senator Kohl appears to be making a common error here, confusing accreditation with certification. Organizations are accredited by the ACCME to deliver certified CME. An accredited organization (eg, Medscape) certifies the CME programs it produces (and can do so, because it is accredited). Therefore, the ACCME does not oversee the production of individual CME programs and would not have direct oversight of an individual program's scientific validity (nor would the ACCME have the wide expertise that is necessary to oversee the scientific validity of the myriad CME programs). The duty is left largely to the faculty who participate in the content development and delivery of CME programs, as well as the employees of the accredited organization (which are often CME experts and/or health care professionals). The mechanisms that the ACCME has in place to mitigate undue industry influence are contained in the ACCME Standards for Commercial Support. The Committee can find "further plans...to develop such mechanisms" in the ACCME's recent Policy Announcements, a document I absolutely adore.
MECCs = medical education communications companies.
* For example, see Harris G. Pfizer to pay $430 million over promoting drug to doctors. NYT. May 14, 2004.
The onset of this year's rotavirus season was delayed by 2-4 months, and its magnitude was reduced by more than 50%, when compared with the previous 15 seasons of viral activity. These data coincide with the increasing use of the rotavirus vaccine (RotaTeq; Merck) in infants, according to an early release report from the MMWR. The live, oral vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2006, and its routine administration at 2, 4, and 6 months of age is recommended by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
Data from the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS) and the New Vaccine Surveillance Network* (NVSN) indicate that this year's rotavirus season began in late February, while the median onset of seasons during 1991-2006 occurred in mid-November (MMWR figure). Also the proportion of all positive rotavirus tests from mid-November 2007 to mid-April 2008 was substantially lower than the minimum number of positive tests during the previous 15 years.
Percentage of Positive Rotavirus Tests From NREVSS
(Data from 2008 are current through May 3)
*Data are from Monroe County, NY; Hamilton County, OH; and Davidson County, TN.
In patients with Parkinson's disease, first-time therapy with L-dopa (eg, Sinemet) provides modestly better motor function and health-related quality of life in the long term than the dopamine agonist bromocriptine (Parlodel). The final, 14-year results of the open, randomized, multicenter study of 3 initial treatments from the PD Research Group of the United Kingdom (PDRG-UK) were published yesterday in the online edition of Neurology.
Previous, interim results from the trial had shown a significantly higher mortality rate with initial L-dopa plus the MAO-B inhibitor selegiline (Eldepryl), leading to discontinuation of that treatment arm in 1995. Ten-year results showed no significant difference in mortality between L-dopa and bromocriptine; although patients who initially received bromocriptine demonstrated slightly worse disability scores but a lower rate of dyskinesias.
In the latest report, data from 166 surviving participants of the original 782 enrollees were assessed. Disability scores and physical functioning were statistically significantly better in patients who initially received L-dopa; however, there were no treatment differences in mortality, dyskinesias, motor fluctuations, or cognitive function.
On the basis of the cumulative data, the authors recommend dopamine agonists as initial treatment for mild PD, particularly in younger patients and when motor function is the chief concern. However, they conclude that initial L-dopa "remains the most efficacious therapy for motor improvement" and should be considered early for all PD patients.
MAO-B = monoamine oxidase B.
Image of 1886 drawing of PD patient by neurologist Sir William Richard Gowers at Wikimedia Commons.
America's poor citizens, numbering approximately 36 million, are preferentially affected by more than a dozen ignored infections—including those caused by parasitic worms (left). A review of these "neglected infections of poverty" is provided by Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, in this month's issue of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
The cited diseases, many of which are endemic to third-world nations, are not confined to America's recent immigrants, writes Hotez, but prominently affect native-born people. He concludes that individuals in geographic regions of poverty—such as Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, the Cotton Belt, the US-Mexican border, and Native American tribal lands—are particularly vulnerable. Although Hotez estimates high rates of these infections among the nation's poor (and specifically, among the minority poor), he emphasizes that an important obstacle to their control is the absence of recent and reliable prevalence data.
Soil-Transmitted Helminthic Infections
Toxocariasis: Up to 30% of rural African American children, mostly in the South, were seropositive for Toxocara canis, or dog roundworm, during the 1970s and 1980s, writes Hotez; however, disease surveys since that time are lacking. He estimates that 1.3-2.8 million Americans are exposed or infected, with at-risk populations in America's inner cities, the South, and Appalachia. In poor urban areas of the United States, playgrounds and sandboxes are often contaminated with T. canis eggs.
Strongyloidiasis: Threadworm, or Strongyloid stercoralis, may infect as many as 100,000 people in the United States, particularly in Appalachia. Hotez also reports that there is a 25% prevalence rate of strongyloidiasis (and a 75% rate of infection with the Schistosoma water fluke) among Somali and Sudanese immigrants. Consequently the CDC recommends presumptive treatment with antihelminthics in these groups.
Chagas disease: Infection with the flagellate protozoa Trypanosoma cruzi is traditionally an insect-borne illness, although the potentially fatal disease (for which there is no reliable treatment) may be transmitted through contaminated food and even by blood transfusion. Hotez cites the rise of domestic blood-sucking tratomines (or assassin bugs), which transmit the protozoa, and the 2007 report of human disease in post-Katrina New Orleans. Because of the high rate of infection among indigenous wildlife (eg, armadillos, opossums) in Louisiana and along the US-Mexican border, Hotez estimates the prevalence of Chagas disease in the United States at anywhere from 3000 to more than 1 million.
Amebiasis and leishmaniasis: Hotez reports that there are insufficient data to estimate the US prevalence of intestinal amebiasis, which is transmitted through food or water, and leishmaniasis, which is transmitted by the sand fly; however, he believes that poor populations along the US-Mexican border are especially at risk for these diseases. According to Wikipedia, US troops serving in the Middle East have experienced cutaneous leishmaniasis, or "Bagdad boil."
Trench fever: Caused by gram-negative Bartonella quintana, trench fever (so-called because of its high prevalence among trench-living soldiers during World War I) is a louse-borne illness. Small outbreaks of trench fever have been documented among the homeless in Seattle and other urban areas since the 1990s; although the estimated US prevalence of the disease remains unknown.
Leptospirosis: A spirochetal infection of the urban poor, leptospirosis is transmitted through water contaminated by rat urine. Hotez reports that there are insufficient data to estimate the US prevalence of the infection, which can cause multisystem failure and DIC.
Dengue fever: From 110,000 to 200,000 new cases of this mosquito-borne illness occur annually in the United States, clustering along the US-Mexican border. Candidate vaccines for dengue fever are in development.
Other poverty-level infections of concern include those caused by platyhelminths (cysticercosis, schistosomiasis, and echinococcus) and congentially transmitted diseases that preferentially affect poor American women (CMV, toxoplasmosis, syphilis). Although giardiasis is the most common parasitic infection in the United States, with an estimated prevalence of 2 million or more, Hotez writes that the disease does not appear to preferentially affect the poor.
He concludes, "Control of these neglected infections needs to be prioritzed...because it is both a highly cost-effective mechanism for lifting disadvantaged populations out of poverty and consistent with our shared American values of equity and equality."
DIC = disseminated intravascular coagulopathy.
Gross-out photo of mass of Ascaris lumbricoides worms, held by CDC's Henry Bishop, from the CDC/James Gathany.
For the first time, researchers showed that amyloid beta (Aβ) dimers from the brains of individuals with Alzheimer's disease induce several AD-like changes in normal rodents. The results of a series of related experiments were reported in the latest online edition of Nature Medicine.
AD-consistent pathophysiologic changes were observed in the normal rodent hippocampus after it was exposed to soluble (but not insoluble) Aβ. The investigators, from Boston and Ireland, discovered
- the inhibition of long-term potentiation (LTP) of synaptic transmission (a cellular model for learning and memory) in a dose-dependent fashion;
- enhanced long-term depression (LTD) (a marker of weakening synaptic transmission); and
- reduced dendritic spine density (a marker of synaptic loss).*
The administration of the Aβ dimer also disrupted the learning of a standard avoidance task in rats. Antibodies to the N-terminus of Aβ prevented the dimer's effects on LTP and LTD (which requires metabotropic glutamate receptors); however, the effect of antibodies to other regions of Aβ was not as remarkable.
The fact that AD-like changes were not detected with insoluble Aβ or other oligomers of Aβ may explain the disconnect between relatively preserved cognitive function during life and a high burden of Aβ in some brains at autopsy—as Marcelle Morrison-Bogorad, director of the neuroscience division at the National Insititute on Aging (NIA), told the AP. The Nature Medicine study was funded, in part, by the NIA.
* The authors note that decreased synaptic density is the strongest neuropathologic correlate of dementia in AD.
Image of wild-type amyloid precursor protein (left) and amyloid fibril (right) by David S. Goodsell from Wikimedia Commons.
I've deigned to think differently from Daniel Carlat.
A fervent critic of all industry-supported CME and the host of The Carlat Psychiatry Blog, Dr. Carlat initially expressed cautious optimism last Thursday about the ACCME's newly proposed guidelines ("ACCME Gets Serious With 'New Paradigm'") to monitor industry-supported CME. However, he showed serious disdain for the very same guidelines 48 hours later ("Using ACCME's New Rules for Bias and Profit"), evidently in response to my criticism on Friday of the ACCME's overblown and confusing verbiage in its document and the organization's apparent failure to entertain the consequences of its proposed actions.
What's somewhat perplexing, other than Dr. Carlat's turnaround opinion, is his not-so-subtle castigation—and even analysis—of me. (So what do I owe you, doctor?) Of course, the absolute gorgeousness of having a blog (other than the fact that I can use words like "gorgeousness" without fear of editing) is that I can respond to Dr. Carlat's post right here on my own little cyber-acre. So here I go.
Dr. Carlat began:
In bmartin's pro-industry-CME blog Pathophilia, there is an interesting post about the newly proposed ACCME rules intended to stamp out commercial bias while still allowing commercial support.
I wouldn't characterize my blog as "pro-industry-CME"; however, I'm not against industry-supported CME, particularly given the current guidelines for its production. Nor am I in favor of stifling the flow of information, whatever its source. It's important to remember that industry-supported CME isn't consumed in a vacuum, but that it exists in the context of commercially supported CME from various industry competitors, as well as a wealth of educational information from nonindustry sources. And doctors are a pretty independent bunch. They can and do decide, individually, what to believe and how to apply information in practice on the basis of a piece of information's provenance and a whole host of other factors, like data reproducibility and clinical experience. Moreover, to my knowledge, there are absolutely no controlled studies demonstrating that participation in industry-supported CME leads to suboptimal medical care or poor patient outcomes.
Bmartin parses out the wording of ACCME's proposal in order to try to divine the organization's actual intentions, and finds much to ridicule.
I parsed the ACCME's wording to express my opinion that the ACCME is in love with its own bombastic voice at the expense of meaning.
You can detect a heavy dose of financial anxiety in this post. It's an attempt to read the tea leaves in ACCME's new policy in the hopes that it will not actually mean any significant changes in the current system. But bmartin ends on a decidedly pessimistic note, predicting that the regulations will lead to less industry funding, and ultimately, to the disappearance of ACCME itself.
Well, maybe Dr. Carlat detects financial anxiety. I thought I was just pissed off at the writing style and lack of forethought of yet another bureaucratic organization.
While I wish I could agree with bmartin, unfortunately I see this as very good news for industry support. Anybody who owns a CME company and has undergone accreditation and reaccreditation (as I have) knows that there is really nothing new in this "new" guidance. Any company will be able to demonstrate compliance with each of these and yet still produce promotional and biased CME. Let's take each of these elements point by point and apply it to a recent promotional CME article produced by Medscape (see here for more details, and see Barnard Carroll's excellent investigative journalism on Medscape here and here).
I'm not sure if Dr. Carlat's implying that I don't know what I'm talking about; however, for what it's worth, I have experienced an ACCME reaccreditation process (which, BTW, generated a lot of printed paper). But more to the point, the ACCME's newly proposed guidelines are different from the existing guidelines (other than the general guideline that content should be free of commercial bias). For instance, there is currently no mandate that educational needs must be identified by an organization that does not receive commercial support—which eliminates most (if not all) MECCs, professional organizations, and university-based CME offices. My main beef with the ACCME's newly proposed guidelines is that they're too vague in how they should or can be executed.
1. Needs assessment will have to be identified by a neutral organization. Not a problem! You want to keep the flow of money coming from Janssen to help it promote Invega? Many non-industry funded organizations will report that practitioners have a need to learn more about the appropriate use of antipsychotics. Bingo—you've just done your needs assessment.
Of course, those in the CME business know that a 1-sentence rationale from any organization is not a sufficient assessment of educational need. Needs assessments are typically multipage documents that include information from literature searches, clinician interviews, outcomes from prior CME programs, physician surveys, and other sources.
2. Practice gaps will have to be identified by neutral organizations. Same non-issue as number one. Any reasonable organization will identify adequate treatment of schizophrenia as a "practice gap." For example, the AHRQ produced this document which can be cited to support the need for education about how to use atypical antipsychotics. Medscape will argue that focusing an article on treating a schizophrenic patient with liver disease (which just happens to be the specialty of Invega, its sponsor's medication) fills an identified "practice gap," and ACCME won't argue with them.
This point indicates that there are government sources to guide the treatment of conditions like schizophrenia, and that these sources can be used in an assessment of educational need. However, an educational activity that focuses on antipsychotic use and liver dysfunction could not rest (at least, in my experience) on the one generality—namely, that there is a need for education on the use of atypical antipsychotics. But my question to the ACCME would be Must the authors of these government-dispensed treatment recommendations have no ties to industry?
3. The curriculum must be specified by a bona fide organization. This is a hard one...let me see...okay, how about psychiatry's specialty board, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc., which publishes these "core competencies" in psychiatry. Go to the "Somatic treatment" section and you'll find the following recommended curriculum for psychiatrists:
Again, my question to the ACCME would be Is a specialty board, or more specifically, are the drafters of a board's core competencies sufficiently commercial-free?
4. It must be verified as "free of commercial bias."
This is a redundancy, since this is already a centerpiece of ACCME Standards for Commercial Support. The organization will never have the resources to monitor the thousands of industry-supported CME activities hatched yearly.
Maybe they will; maybe they won't. In my scenario, I guess it's possible that there could be a point of equilibrium, where the dwindling number of CME providers can be sufficiently managed by a beefed-up ACCME—until the organization collapses from lack of fees.
So don't fret, bmartin—in fact, I would argue that this is a cause for great joy. ACCME is handing you the perfect mechanism for a commercial CME whitewash. Use some of that industry money to celebrate.
Okay, it's my turn for analysis...um, bilious sarcasm?
From 1975, Antonioni's The Passenger. Few actors, other than Nicholson, could sustain such a spare, disjointed filmic exercise. But as a documentary reporter who, inexplicably, wants to be somebody else, Nicholson does.
There are viewers who will find the existential tone of the movie pretentious, but I had to rewatch it as soon as it was over.
To expand its "operational elements," the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education plans to increase its current fees and to introduce new fees for accredited providers of CME. The ACCME—the US organization that confers accreditation on universities, medical societies, and MECCs to provide CME—stated its intent to increase its revenue in an abstrusely worded annual Policy Announcements. Presently the ACCME's initial and reaccreditation fees are $6500, and its annual accreditation fee is $2000; according to its website, the ACCME provides accreditation for 740 organizations.
The ACCME did not specify its newly proposed fees in the announcements, but additional revenue is intended to support substantial staff increases and "an enhanced monitoring and surveillance system." And while information in this section of the policy document, "An Expansion to Operational Elements," remains vague, it is certainly the clearest in meaning among all sections of the document. Other informational parts of the announcements and proposed policies "for comment" are written in an overbearing, and often senseless, wordiness. Perhaps the ACCME knows what it means; the rest of us can only guess.
Let's begin with the introductory "Accredited CME is[sic] Education That Matters to Patient Care."*
The ACCME continues to emphasize that CME must be a strategic asset to all stakeholders who seek to improve health care in the US. Since 2006, the ACCME has maintained a focus on supporting a well-organized transition to a criterion-based system for the accreditation of CME providers that matches the gaps in physician competence, performance, and patient outcomes (ie, professional practice gaps) with practice-based learning and change.
In the first sentence, I pretty much stumble after "that" and then experience a full-body wince at the use of "stakeholders." In the phrase, "CME must be a strategic asset," "strategic asset" apparently means some important, positive thing; but it's really axiomatic that a cited asset would be important, so the adjective, in my mind, is unnecessary. And then I'd argue that "asset" should be supplanted with an adjective like "important." Then there's the phrase, "all stakeholders who seek to improve health care in the US." That's pretty much everybody, isn't it? So the first sentence can be distilled to something like, "The ACCME continues to emphasize that CME is important to everybody"—which is not a particularly useful or insightful introductory sentence. So just delete the whole thing.
Then there's the second sentence: "Since 2006, the ACCME has maintained a focus on supporting..." For starters, how about, "Since 2006, the ACCME has focused..." or even "has supported..."? What has the ACCME "maintained a focus on supporting"? A "well-organized transition to a criterion-based system for the accreditation of CME providers." There are at least a few problems with this phrase. The ACCME supports a transition (and not a poorly organized transition, mind you) to a criterion-based system (BTW, it is really just 1 criterion?), but the ACCME doesn't indicate what the transition is from. A non-criterion-based system? Something like astrology? But even an astrological sign is a criterion, albeit a capricious one. So the distinction of a "criterion-based system" is nonsensical without further definition.
To that point, the remainder of the ACCME's second sentence indicates that the "criterion-based system... matches the gaps in physician competence, performance, and patients outcomes...with practice-based learning and change." The ACCME now defines its "criterion-based system" for accreditation as something that matches gaps—or really, addresses deficiencies—in "physician competence, performance" (which are really the same) and "patients[sic] outcomes." And then the method by which these deficiencies are addressed is "practice-based learning and change." But all medically related learning is potentially applicable to practice, depending on whose practice you're talking about.
So the ACCME's definition of its "criterion-based system" for accreditation (which, when it comes down to it, is not really a system) is the CME provider's act of demonstrating (and I'm helping out the ACCME here) that there is information which has the potential to improve medical practice. Therefore..."Since 2006, the ACCME has supported the accreditation of [or simply "accredits"] CME providers who attempt to provide knowledge that elevates medical practice," or something to that effect. This statement, in its distillation, is also kind of self-evident and, therefore, unnecessary.
I could go on and on, but the exercise is life sucking. Anyway you get my drift, even if you read only part of the Policy Announcements.
The most controversial aspect of the ACCME's Policy Announcements is in a "For Comment" section, which proposes that the commercial support of CME should only be allowed to continue after several considerable changes. These changes are likely to make the production of timely CME difficult and probably more trouble than it's worth for many providers. (The ultimate and ironic consequence [described below] of the ACCME's proposed conditions should be evident to anyone who has played chess.)
1. When educational needs are identified and verified by organizations that do not receive commercial support and are free of financial relationships with industry.
The ACCME cites government agencies as a example; although, it does not stipulate which government agencies engage in or would engage in the identification of CME needs, or how current CME providers would access or use this information to obtain grant support from industry. Also, what defines freedom from financial relationships?
2. If the CME addresses a professional practice gap of a particular group of learners that is corroborated by bona fide performance measurements (eg, National Quality Form[sic]) of the learners' own practice.
Another ill-considered hoop. Other than citing the National Quality Forum, a nonprofit "performance-improvement" organization, it's not clear what would qualify as valid corroboration. At its website, the NQF notes that it endorses a number of "clinician-level performance measures" and is currently asking for measures related to cancer, infectious disease, and surgical care. But how this information may be obtained or used by CME providers is not described by the ACCME or the NQF.
3. When the CME content is from a continuing education curriculum specified by a bona fide organization, or entity (eg, AMA, AHRQ, ABMS, FSMB).
Again, how CME providers may obtain and use another organization's curriculum for content is not clear (and perhaps not yet known).
4. When the CME is verified as free of commercial bias.
And who or what determines commercial bias?
Now the big irony of the ACCME's proposed crackdown on commercially supported CME is that it conceivably leads to the organization's undoing through the following process.
- Industry will provide less commercial support for CME (as has been the case during the last year or so).
- There will be considerably fewer organizations producing certified CME and, therefore, fewer organizations will need accreditation to provide CME.
- Fewer accredited CME providers will reduce the ACCME's fee revenue.
High five, ACCME.
CME = continuing medical education; MECCs = medical education communications companies.
*BTW ACCME, always capitalize verbs, no matter how short, in titles.
While the FDA considers whether to add suicide warnings to the labels of 11 epilepsy drugs,* the measure is unlikely to affect prescriptions—at least by neurologists. That's because the cost of nonadherence to anticonvulsant therapy among epileptic patients is known to be so high.
For example, in this week's print issue of Neurology, investigators report a 3-fold increased risk of death among nonadherent epileptic patients in a retrospective study of Medicaid claims from Florida, Iowa, and New Jersey (N = 33,658).** Nonadherence, determined by non-possession of medication, was also associated with significantly more ER visits (50% increased risk), hospital admissions (86%), car accidents (108%), and bone fractures (21%).
In the FDA's assessment of 199 placebo-controlled studies of patients with epilepsy, selected psychiatric illnesses, or pain conditions (N = 43,892), there were only 4 (0.009%) suicides in drug-treated patients and none in placebo-treated individuals. Suicidal behavior or ideation was reported in 0.37% of patients who received an anticonvulsant and in 0.22% of those who received placebo. While the risk of suicidality is almost 70% higher with anticonvulsant treatment, the absolute risk remains small at 0.15%. Not surprising, the risk of suicidality with either drug treatment or placebo was lower in epileptic patients than in psychiatric patients (see table).
Suicidality Risk, %
Relative Risk Increase, %
Absolute Risk Increase, %
The FDA is holding a public advisory meeting on the risk of suicide with anticonvulsant drugs on July 10.
*The 11 drugs are carbamazepine (Carbatrol; Shire); felbamate (Felbatol; Meda); gabapentin (Neurontin; Pfizer), lamotrigine (Lamictal; GSK); levetiracetam (Keppra; UCB); oxcarbazepine (Trileptal; Novartis); pregabaline (Lyrica; Pfizer); tiagabine (Gabitril; Cephalon); topiramate (Topamax; Ortho-McNeil); valproate (Depakote; Abbott); and zonisamide (Zonegran; Eisai).
**The study was sponsored by GSK, maker of Lamictal (lamotrigine). One of the study authors is an employee of GSK, and the other authors report support from GSK, in the form of research grants and/or "other activities."
In an ongoing effort to protect consumers from fraudulent cancer treatments, the FDA sent warning letters to 25 web-based businesses from April 17 to June 9. The warned companies or entities and a list of their 125 "fake cancer 'cure' products" were posted yesterday at the FDA web site. These letters follow a series of warning letters sent by the FTC earlier this year to 112 web sites, which falsely promoted cancer treatments, says the FDA. Consumer complaints and a web search performed by the FDA, FTC, and members of the Mexico-US-Canada Health Fraud Working Group prompted the overdue crackdown.
At least 3 of the targeted entities are already known to the FDA. A search of warning letters at Casewatch indicates that Vitasalus Inc (Nu-Gen Nutrition), Vitapurity, and H&L Worldwide all received earlier letters from the FDA, which claimed that the businesses promoted products for the "cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of diseases" in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. These repeat warnings do not necessarily include the numerous instances in which companies have fraudulently hawked the same products—for example, "Coral Calcium" or "Curcumin"—in rotating fashion as disease treatments.
An FDA warning letter sent to Vitasalus (Nu-Gen Nutrition) in May 2002 cited a single website, cancerchoices.com, and the product Squalamax. However, the most recent FDA letter cites 7 websites and 6 other products, in addition to Squalamax. A Wayback search reveals that 6 of the 7 Vitasalus websites named this year existed in 2002. The 2 other companies, H&L Worldwide (Chang Li) and Vitapurity (Otto Roder), have evidently not moved their cyber or land-based addresses since the time of their FDA warning letters in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Given the number of products promoted by each company and those cited by the FDA this year, business does not seem to have suffered for either company in the interim.
Elan and Wyeth announced "encouraging top-line results" from a randomized, dose-ranging phase 2 trial of bapineuzumab in 240 patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease; although the monoclonal antibody was no better than placebo when assessing cognition or disability at 18 months, the primary endpoints. A press release from the companies contained the primary-endpoint data in the second paragraph.
Instead the companies chose to highlight results from the post-hoc analyses of subgroups, including patients who do not carry the high-risk apolipoprotein E4 allele (40%-70% of AD patients).* Data in this subgroup showed "statistically significant and clinically meaningful benefits" with bapineuzumab, per cognitive scales like the ADAS-cog. The treated subgroup also demonstrated relatively preserved brain volume on MRI, the press release reported.
Safety data in the phase 2 trial indicated that ApoE4 carriers may be especially prone to vasogenic edema with the agent. Consequently the dose of bapineuzumab, an anti-Aβ agent, is being modified for this subpopulation in phase 3 studies. According to ClinicalTrials.gov, two phase 3 studies of bapineuzumab in AD are currently recruiting subjects, and another two phase 3 studies are "active" but "not yet recruiting."
The Elan/Wyeth press release indicates that full details of the phase 2 study will be presented July 28 at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago. Despite the mixed phase 2 results, the reaction of Wall Street was mostly optimistic, according to the WSJ Health Blog.
06/18/08 update: According to Forbes, analysts Leerink Swann and Davy Stockbrokers are talking up the study and the companies' prospects. For no particularly good reason, respective share prices of Elan and Wyeth shot up yesterday 10.6% and 4.8%.
Image: depiction of amyloid plaque from National Institute on Aging.
Aβ = amyloid beta.
*So, in this case, we may guess that approximately 12-20 patients per treatment group (4 for bapineuzumab; 4 for placebo) were noncarriers.
Actually, maybe something. The Disease Management Care Blog ambushes us with a quiz, plus an extra-credit question.
P.S. Rhinoliquorrhea is CSF rhinorrhea.
Leaders of the Energy and Commerce committee, John Dingell (D-MI) and Bart Stupak (D-MI), requested that 4 drug companies adhere to rules for direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads that are mostly already in place. The letters were sent May 20 to leaders at JNJ, Pfizer, Merck, and Schering-Plough following a May 8 congressional hearing, "Direct-to-Consumer Advertising: Marketing, Education, or Deception?" Responses to the representatives' letters were posted yesterday at the committee's website.
Today's media coverage largely focuses on the representatives' request for a voluntary, 2-year moratorium on DTC advertising of new drug products, which was declined by the companies. However, Dingell and Stupak made other requests, as described in sequence here:
- That the companies follow the AMA's guidelines for the use of actors and health professionals in DTC ads.
The AMA's policy H-105.988 states that "product-specific DTC advertisements should not use an actor to portray a health care professional...because this portrayal may be misleading and deceptive. If actors portray health care professionals in DTC advertisements, a disclaimer should be prominently displayed." Also "[t]he use of actual health care professionals, either practicing or retired, in DTC to endorse a specific drug or implantable medical device product is discouraged but if utilized, the advertisement must include a clearly visible disclaimer that the health care professional is compensated for endorsement."
The representatives' request is, no doubt, a response to Pfizer's semi-controversial use of artificial-heart inventor Robert Jarvik to promote Lipitor in its now-pulled DTC ads. Pfizer replied to the committee that it is "currently working internally to ensure that the recent AMA guidelines...are fully incorporated into our DTC advertising when applicable." Merck responded that none of its current DTC ads use physicians or actors who play physicians. All companies, including JNJ and Schering-Plough, agreed to comply with the AMA policy in cases where it might be relevant.
2. That DTC ads not market products until a "valid outcomes study" is completed, and the results are released.
The representatives' definition of valid outcomes is not entirely clear; although they may be referring to longer-term clinical outcomes—for example, cardiac events instead of surrogate cholesterol levels in the case of cholesterol-lowering medications (ie, statins). Certainly DTC ads can only promote the use of FDA-approved pharmaceuticals, which must show at least clinically meaningful efficacy and safety to be approved. JNJ wrote that it has concerns about categorically prohibiting DTC ads "before completion of studies of an undetermined time and nature." Merck indicated that it would defer to the FDA on this point. Pfizer and Schering-Plough (which market Lipitor and Vytorin, respectively) indicated that waiting for long-term clinical outcomes would compromise consumer education and, therefore, consumer health.
3. As recommended by the Institute of Medicine, that there be a 2-year (instead of the conventional 6-month) moratorium on DTC ads for new prescription drug products.
In 2006, the IOM recommended that the FDA require a special product label to identify a new drug or new drug combination, and that DTC advertising should be restricted during 2 years. The FDA has not implemented the IOM's recommendation. All companies contacted by the representatives indicated that they abide by a general, internal 6-month moratorium on DTC advertising and would continue to do so. The companies cite PhRMA guidelines, which state that "companies should spend an appropriate amount of time to educate health professionals...before commencing the first DTC advertising campaign...[C]ompanies should take into account the relative importance of informing patients of the availability of a new medicine, the complexity of the risk-benefit profile of that new medicine and health care professionals' knowledge of the condition being treated."
4. That DTC drug ads should not market off-label uses.
Probably the most blatant example of grandstanding by the congressmen. Of course, DTC advertising must comply with FDA-approved labeling, and all companies indicated their compliance.
5. That DTC ads include the FDA's toll-free MedWatch phone number for reporting adverse events.
Current law mandates the listing of the MedWatch number in DTC print ads, and a toll-free information number in televised ads. JNJ indicated that it would include the MedWatch number in its TV ads. The other companies stated that they would defer to the FDA, pending the agency's ongoing investigation of this particular matter.
6. That so-called black-box warnings be included in DTC ads.
Merck and Schering-Plough indicated that they did not have any DTC ads for products with black-box warnings, and all companies replied that they have deferred (ie, Pfizer) or would defer to the FDA about how to incorporate such safety information into DTC ads.
HT for story: Pharmalot.
In an expected move, representatives of the primary voting blocks of the AMA House of Delegates—primary care doctors, state medical societies, and specialty medical societies—strongly objected to an AMA proposal to eliminate commercially supported CME, according to today's Medical Marketing & Media. The AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) had recommended the phasing out of nearly all commercial support for CME, an issue which was debated at a committee hearing on Sunday, during the annual meeting of the AMA House of Delegates in Chicago.
John Kamp, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication, reported that the proposal "went down in flames," according to the paper. The CHC, along with the North American Association of Medical Education and Communication Companies (NAAMECC), objected to the CEJA proposal on the basis of 3 general arguments:
[T]he report ignores the dramatic difference between certified CME and other non-certified 'education' and thus overlooks the significant advances in the management and resolution of conflicts of interest mandated in the last several years by government, industry and the [ACCME].
[T]he report's conclusions are not based on current and scientifically relevant and rigorous evidence in the context of certified CME and do not respect dramatic progress in the past decade.
[T]he report lacks a plausible, detailed plan to ensure that the proposed elimination of $1 billion in certified CME funding would improve the quality of certified CME and patient care.
Given the objections voiced at the AMA meeting, the CEJA proposal is "referred back to the council, effectively tabling it for the year," wrote the paper.
It isn't. The former is a hat-trick recitation of known, memorizable numbers in sequence (albeit a very long sequence), with no practical purpose. The latter is an enduring health insurance program for the elderly, with budgetary problems and unknown solutions—other than more money.
But AMA President Ronald Davis believes that one should follow the other. In an appealing-sounding, but really illogical, statement made at the annual meeting of the AMA house of delegates, Davis claimed, "If a person with autism can recite Pi to more than 22,000 digits, we ought to be able to...figure out how to get off the [Medicare] hamster wheel."* Cue: rousing applause accompanied by sprinkled thoughts of "huh?"
*On March 14, 2004, autistic savant Daniel Tammet recited Pi to 22,514 decimal places, breaking the European record. Davis's "hamster wheel" refers to cyclic Medicare cuts in physician reimbursement for services.
On the basis of criteria promoting the treatment of global diseases, GlaxoSmithKline and Novo Nordisk ranked highest according to a newly released index from the Access to Medicine Foundation. The foundation, which encourages pharma's role in the healthcare of third-world citizens, assessed the philanthropic activities of 20 of the world's largest drug companies.
The following table lists the 8 criteria used by the foundation, with examples of commendable policies or programs. Leaders and losers in each category are also provided. By holding up examples, the foundation hopes to 1) motivate lower-ranking companies to establish practices which promote healthcare in developing countries and 2) urge higher-ranking companies to maintain and expand their social responsibilities.
· sanofi-aventis: Access to Medicine division within Corporate Affairs; separate from philanthropic activities, drug-donation programs
· Pfizer: Global Health Fellows Program, in which employees volunteer for 4-6 months at nonprofits in developing world
Public policy influence and advocacy
· Eli Lilly: Grant Registry, with disclosure of cash grants to US organizations*
R&D reflecting global disease burden and neglected diseases
· Dedicated neglected diseases divisions:
· Tropical-disease vaccine departments: GSK, Novartis, sanofi-aventis
· Wyeth/WHO collaboration on treatment of onchocerciasis (river blindness)
Patents and licensing
· GSK: licensing agreement with Apotex to produce Apo-Triavir for distribution in
· sanofi-aventis: with DNDi, development of fixed-dose artesunate/amodiaquine
Drug manufacturing, distribution, and capability advancement
· Roche: Technology Transfer Initiative
· GSK: "Tearing down the barriers"
· Novo Nordisk: "Base of the Pyramid" pricing initiatives for diabetes
· Abbott Lab: Tanzania Care
*As stated elsewhere, Lilly provides a highly itemized (and therefore, very difficult-to-synthesize) online registry report for each financial quarter of 2007.
Need breakneck-speed dialogue and funny-looking women's hats? Here's your movie: Howard Hawks's His Girl Friday, a sexed-up remake of the journalistic screwball comedy, The Front Page.
Hawks evidently encouraged (or simply tolerated) ad libbing and private jokes on the set by his two stars, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. For example, see if you can spot Cary Grant reference his real name.*
Closed captioning is highly recommended, if not urged.
Poster image from Wikipedia and reproduced under fair use law.
The aggregation of insoluble amyloid fibrils is an important pathologic hallmark of Alzheimer's disease (and a number of other conditions). The most fibrillogenic isoform of amyloid beta, Aβ42, is produced when the enzyme γ-secretase cleaves the transmembrane portion of amyloid precursor protein (APP). Therefore a potential strategy for the treatment of AD is the inhibition of γ-secretase with γ-secretase modulators (GSMs).
In this week's issue of Nature, Kukar and colleagues report the surprising finding that the target of their synthetic GSMs is the substrate APP and not the enzyme itself. Specifically the GSM binding site localizes to the 28-36 residue portion of amyloid beta, a region that is critical for amyloid aggregation. Therefore certain GSMs have the potential to suppress the production of Aβ42 and its aggregation. The authors propose that substrate-targeting GSMs for further investigation can be identified by their ability to bind Aβ and APP. One Aβ42-lowering GSM, tarenflurbil (Flurizan; Myriad), is in phase 3 clinical study in patients with mild AD.
The goal of suppressing Aβ42 formation, however, is at odds with recent population studies, which showed that the risk reduction of AD with NSAIDs is not dependent on the suppression of Aβ42. In an e-mail, Kukar acknowledged the disconnect but also stressed that epidemiologic studies cannot substitute for well-controlled clinical trials.
Image of wild-type APP (left) and amyloid fibril (right) by David S. Goodsell from Wikimedia Commons.
Eleven newborns acquired PCR-confirmed pertussis during the month of July 2004, from a healthcare worker in a Texas hospital nursery, according to the June 6 issue of MMWR. The healthcare worker, who had been fully vaccinated for pertussis during childhood, experienced symptoms consistent with the disease before the outbreak. She had provided direct care for 113 infants while symptomatic (attack rate, 9.7%). Her husband experienced similar symptoms after returning from California, 2-3 weeks prior. (The vaccination status of the husband was not reported.)
All 11 newborns were treated with erythromycin at a Texas children's hospital and recovered, according to the MMWR. Nine required hospital admission, and 5 received intensive care. During follow-up screening of infants who were in the nursery from May 31 to July 17, 18 of 110 exhibited cough; despite being PCR negative, they were treated with prophylactic erythromycin. Two infants were found to be symptomatic and PCR positive; one was admitted to the children's hospital. Another possible case of pertussis was identified in a 3-year-old sibling.
Children younger than 1 year of age are especially prone to complications of pertussis, including seizures, pneumonia, encephalopathy, and cardiovascular compromise. The pertussis case-fatality rate for infected infants younger than 2 months approaches 2%. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the Tdap vaccine for healthcare workers and others who are in direct contact with children younger than 1 year of age.
PCR = polymerase chain reaction.
Photo of symptomatic child with pertussis from pertussis.com.
An inactivated, whole-virus H5N1 vaccine is immunogenic and safe, according to a Baxter-sponsored, -designed, and -analyzed study. The results of the phase 1/2 trial were reported in this week's NEJM.
A total of 275 men or women received 2 doses of 1 of 6 randomly assigned versions of Baxter's vaccine, 21 days apart. The formulations of the vaccine, produced in Vero cells, contained various doses of hemagglutinin antigen, with or without alum adjuvant. The vaccine was produced from the wild-type strain A/Vietnam/1203/2004, which was originally cultivated from a 10-year-old Vietnamese boy who died of avian influenza in 2004 (Maines TR et al. J Virol. 2005;79:11788-11800.)
The vaccine induced direct neutralizing responses to A/Vietnam/1203/2004 (clade 1), as well as cross-neutralizing responses to strains A/Indonesia/05/2005 (clade 2) and A/Hong Kong/156/1997 (clade 3). The addition of adjuvant to the vaccine did not augment immunogenic responses; maximum responses were observed with nonadjuvant formulations containing either 7.5 or 15 µg of hemagglutinin. From 9% to 27% of enrollees experienced mild injection-site pain, and 6%-31% experienced headache.
The investigators proposed that whole-virus vaccine may be more immunogenic in unvaccinated groups than split- or partial-virus vaccines, and that the use of Vero cell culture (instead of embryonated chicken eggs) will reduce vaccine-production time during a pandemic.
The NEJM—perhaps sensitive to recent reports of medical ghostwriting and the use figurehead, academic authors for company-sponsored studies—provided the following information in the Methods section:
The manuscript was written by a subgroup of industry and academic authors; all authors contributed to the content, had full access to the data, and vouch for the completeness and accuracy of the data and data analysis.
The lead author of the study is Baxter's head of Global Research and Development, Hartmut J. Ehrlich, MD; the second author is Markus Muller, MD, of the Medical University of Vienna. According to the write-up, both physicians "contributed equally" to the article.
The development of an effective avian flu vaccine for humans is unlikely to happen too soon. CDC investigators recently discovered that North American strains of avian influenza A H7 have developed host-binding affinities that are similar to those of human influenza viruses. This property may facilitate human infection with avian influenza and human-to-human transmission.
A phase 3 study of Baxter's vaccine in Austria and Germany is active, but not yet recruiting subjects.
Colorized transmission electron micrograph of avian influenza A H5N1 virus (gold) grown in MDCK cells (green) from CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith.
Mainstream media outlets and blogs are chattering about the news that Harvard psychiatrists Joseph Biederman, Timothy Wilens, and Thomas Spencer did not fully disclose their pharma consulting fees to the university, possibly in violation of academic and federal conflict-of-interest rules. According to the online Congressional record, Senator Chuck Grassley (Iowa-R) began an investigation last fall, which sought to determine the full extent of industry fees paid to the psychiatrists. The doctors also received NIH grants for clinical studies of commercial pharmaceuticals.
Persistent investigation by Grassley revealed that, from 2000 to 2007, Biederman and Wilens each earned more than $1.6 million from commercial sources, and that Spencer earned more than $1 million, according to the record. The majority of these fees (for services that are not specified) had not been reported to the university. The propriety, or even legality, of the physicians' reporting behavior is the subject of much online speculation. However, it remains unclear what led Grassley to investigate these physicians in the first place—among any number of possible targets.
Grassley may have been alerted to Biederman (and thereby, his Harvard colleagues) through the death of 4-year-old Rebecca Riley. As reported by "60 Minutes" in September of last year, Rebecca Riley died on December 13, 2006, at her home in Hull, Massachusetts, due to an overdose of psychiatric drugs. The drugs—Depakote (divalproex; Abbott), Seroquel (quetiapine; AstraZeneca), and clonazepam—were prescribed by Tufts psychiatrist Kayoko Kifuji for the child's bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed at the age of 2 years. Before her death, Rebecca had also been given an over-the-counter cold medication and at least one additional, unprescribed dose of clonazapam by her mother (and possibly more for a period of time before the child's death).
According to "60 Minutes," Dr. Kifuji's prescribing practices were heavily influenced by the research and views of Biederman, who was interviewed for the news show. Biederman has evidently been instrumental in the trend to apply the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, in broader terms, to very young children. And with the diagnosis goes pharmaceutical treatment in the form of some drugs that have not been systematically tested in children.
In a Boston Globe story, Kifuji's lawyer stated that the Harvard psychiatrists were "by far the leading lights in terms of providing leadership in the treatment of children who have disorders such as bipolar." The paper also wrote of the extensive financial ties between pharma and Biederman, who had "received research funding from 15 drug companies and serves as a paid speaker or adviser to seven of them," including Eli Lilly (Zyprexa [olanzapine]) and Janssen (Risperdal [risperidone]). The Congressional record also reports financial ties between Biederman and BMS (Abilify [aripiprazole]), Cephalon (Vivitrol [naltraxone]), GSK, JNJ, and Pfizer.
Right or wrong, Biederman and his colleagues Wilens and Spencer have evidently influenced the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder, as well as those of ADHD, through the medical literature (for example: Frazier JA et al. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2001;11:239-250; Wilens TA et al. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2003;13:495-505) and through pharma-supported CME programs (for example: "The Evolving Face of ADHD" and "Focus on ADHD"). The question is whether commercial funding influenced Biederman et al to promote the relatively aggressive, unapproved use of pharmaceuticals in children with psychiatric problems. The chief of psychiatry at MGH, Jerrold Rosenbaum, wrote in an e-mail to the Boston Globe, "I think a pharma person would not dare to tell Joe [Biederman] what to say...For Joe, it is his ideas and mission that drive him, not the fees."
As far as the aftermath of Rebecca Riley's death is concerned, the child's parents, Carolyn and Michael, were charged with first-degree murder and await trial. Dr. Kifuji agreed to suspend her medical practice pending an investigation by the Massachusetts medical board.
Today's NYT features a write-up of optical, or really perceptual, illusions ("Anticipating the Future to 'See' the Present" by Benedict Carey) and refers specifically to a Flash image of a spinning dancer* created by Nobuyuki Kayahara. The popular idea behind this fascinating (and infuriating) image is that it is a kind of left-brain-right-brain personality test, which depends on how you see the image spinning. Dancer rotating clockwise? You're right-brained. Counterclockwise? You're left-brained. Whatever that means in popular culture.
As Tara Parker-Hope explained in April at the NYT Health blog, the silhouetted image doesn't have any depth cues—such as lines to indicate how her legs should overlap. For instance, notice in the still-shot thumbnail (above) that the dancer could be facing toward you with her left leg extended or away from you with her right leg extended (a la the ambiguous Necker cube). How she spins depends on this split-second decision, which is perhaps based on how your brain is wired, past experience, or both. Parker-Hope indicated that most people will see the dancer flip her rotation, if they stare at her long enough.
Thinking I'd somehow be a better person for it, I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to get the dancer to flip at will. It's tough, particularly because there's some weird desire to maintain her movement that interferes with the flip. It's easiest if you scroll your PC screen so that only the dancer's lower legs are visible. Then once the flip happens, scroll back to view the entire image. There are also Wikipedia cheat views (here and here), which fill in the overlap lines to define the rotation.
BTW, I'm one hardcore right-brainer.
*Kayahara's Web site features a faster-spinning image here.
Pathetic update: Turn your head away from the monitor (either left or right), so that the dancer is in your far peripheral vision. She should appear to be some undulating blob; her movements may even resemble those of a rollerblader. Then imagine her turning clockwise or counterclockwise. Then look back directly at the image. Repeat this exercise until you can reliably flip her rotation, and then tell your friends and family members that you can do this.
Mercury-containing dental fillings may harm pregnant women and young children.
That's the general, and not particularly useful, lede provided by most media outlets last week, while reporting on a settlement in the case of Moms Against Mercury et al v. Leavitt et al. As part of the settlement, the FDA will reopen a comment period, beginning July 28, 2008, to potentially reclassify dental amalgam and will issue a final ruling 1 year later. And that's really all that's news, if you call that news.
Essential background on the issue can be found from the American Dental Association, which states in a press release that the "FDA has different classifications for encapsulated amalgam and its component parts, dental mercury and amalgam alloy. The FDA's proposed reclassification, which the ADA has supported since 2002, would place encapsulated amalgam and its components under one classification." The organization also writes, "As far as the ADA is aware, the FDA has in no way changed its approach to, or position on, dental amalgam."
However, last week the media latched onto the following statements made at the FDA web site, in response to the settlement:
Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses. When amalgam fillings are placed in teeth or removed from teeth, they release mercury vapor. Mercury vapor is also released during chewing. FDA’s rulemaking...will examine evidence concerning whether release of mercury vapor can cause health problems, including neurological disorders, in children and fetuses.
Pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure, including individuals with existing high levels of mercury bioburden, should not avoid seeking dental care, but should discuss options with their health practitioner.
This information is best couched in the FDA's statements indicating that there is not enough information to know whether dental amalgam—which is approximately 50% mercury and has been widely used for more than a century—is harmful to pregnant women or young children. Other countries (Canada, France, Sweden), follow a "precautionary principle" in these populations, given the lack of data. During the comment period, the FDA requests "empirical data and scientific evidence concerning this classification and special controls for dental amalgam."
The original cause of the brouhaha, the "Petition to Order Mercury Amalgam Withdrawn From Interstate Commerce," is, itself, a curious document. For one, the diverse group of petitioners (listed) shows how the ultra-right and ultra-left often come together in their own Bizarro World. They are the following:
- Moms Against Mercury, a nonprofit organization located in North Carolina and founded by Amy Carson, who believes that the ethylmercury-containing vaccine preservative Thimerosal causes autism—despite a wealth of medical data to the contrary.
- The Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, an organization dedicated to eliminating environmental toxins in the state and their effects, particularly on low-income or minority populations. The coalition is led by president Mark A. Mitchell, MD.
- Oregonians for Life, a pro-life/anti-abortion organization.
- California Citizens for Health Freedom, one of the more "out-there" health-related nonprofits. The CCHF is dedicated to a "toxic-free environment" and the right to access alternative medical treatments for cancer. The organization also opposes the fluoridation of public drinking water.
Kevin J. Biggers, a candidate for the California state senate and a public member of the Dental Board of California.
Karen Johnson, an Arizona state senator whose "issues of concern" include the "precious right to life of the unborn," "eradicating pornography," and "standing resolutely against the homosexual agenda."
Linda Brocato, an Illinoisan who believes that mercury-containing dental fillings caused her multiple sclerosis, and that her symptoms improved substantially after the removal of these fillings.
- R. Andrew Landerman, DDS, a California dentist whose advertised "services" include acupuncture, ayurveda, homeopathy, and the use of the Cavitat device.
- Anita Vasquez Tibau, the California organizer of the Consumers for Dental Choice. Tibau believes that mercury in dental fillings caused her asthma.
The hapless respondents demonstrate, once again, that a visible government job is a gift that keeps on giving: Mike Leavitt, DHHS Secretary; Andrew von Eschenbach, MD, FDA Commissioner; and Dan Schultz, MD, and Mary S. Runner, DDS, both of the FDA's CDRH.
Generally the petitioners allege that the FDA has been negligent in its duty to classify dental amalgam and specifically imply that the FDA has taken a deliberate, passive stance to maintain a profitable status quo for the subversive, pro-amalgam ADA and amalgam manufacturers.
Among the more intriguing allegations in the petition is the following:
It should come as no surprise that all government literature reviews on amalgam's toxicity have been managed by groups composed mainly of dentists. For example, a multimillion dollar grant to study amalgam was given to a dentist sitting on the ADA's Council of Scientific Affairs; that person chose a defenseless group—institutionalized Portuguese orphans—on which to experiment with mercury, without disclosures of health risks. The study is now under investigation by the Secretary's Office of Human Research Protections, the watchdog charged with stopping unethical medical experimentation.
The petitioners are presumably referring to a 2006 study in JAMA by DeRouen et al from the University of Washington and the University of Lisbon. The prospective study was funded by the Cooperative Agreement U01 DE11894 for the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) of the NIH. According to a 2005 Business Wire story, the University of Washington School of Dentistry did receive $22 million from the NIDCR; however, it is highly unlikely that this chunk of change was consumed by the JAMA study. The story indicated that DeRouen was the designated principal investigator and chair of a research network among his institution, the Washington Dental Service, and the School of Dentistry at Oregon Health Sciences University.
In the JAMA study, more than 500 Portuguese children (aged 8-10 years) received either randomly assigned posterior dental amalgam or resin-based composite as required dental work. The children enrolled were students within the Casa Pia system. According to Wikipedia, Casa Pia is Portugal's largest educational institution for children at risk of "social exclusion or without parental support." Casa Pia has been described as an orphanage in the mainstream press and, parenthetically, is at the center of an ongoing sex-abuse scandal and trial—which should be neither here nor there as far as the DeRouen study is concerned.
It is noted within the JAMA article that the study protocol was approved by the institutional review boards at the University of Washington and the University of Lisbon, and that written, informed consent was obtained from parents or guardians. DeRouen et al reported no significant differences in urinary mercury levels or neurologic function between the 2 treatment groups over the course of 7 years. However, after 5 years, "the need for additional restorative treatment was approximately 50% higher in the composite group."
Regarding implied ethical violations by the study investigators (and presumably the petitioners are referring to the DHHS Office for Human Research Protections), a 2006 AP news report indicated that the counsel for Consumers for Dental Choice, Charlie Brown (who, by george, is one of the petition drafters) found the Casa Pia study unethical because "guardians were never told of the potential risks of the mercury fillings."
DeRouen shot back in the AP story, "We weren't doing anything experimental. We were giving standard dental treatment." A University of Washington review board evidently found the allegations to be unfounded; however, a spokesperson for the OHRP said that the DeRouen study was "under investigation."
According to letters at the OHRP web site, the office did find that the University of Washington's informed consent document "failed to adequately describe the reasonably foreseeable risks of amalgams and composite materials used in dental procedures," as required by DHHS regulations. In response, UW developed a new policy and guidance for its institutional review board concerning the risks of standard-of-care procedures and revised its informed-consent templates to reference this policy. These changes, which appear to be general changes regarding the risks of standard of care and not mercury-related risks specifically, satisfied the OHRP as of April 2007.
In Ace in the Hole, Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot) shows his dark side by examining the phenomenon of the media circus.
An ambitious, East-coast reporter, Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) becomes trapped in Alburquerque, New Mexico—a consequence of his own personal failings. But as an inveterate opportunist, Tatum eventually comes to exploit the story of a nearby mountain cave-in, which half-buries a local treasure hunter. And Tatum isn't the only one who intends to profit from the man's misfortune.
Tatum critiquing the local paper: "Even for Albuquerque, this is pretty Albuquerque."
In a cautionary, online slide show, the Multnomah County* Sheriff's Department warns of the cosmetic toll of meth addiction. Before-and-after mug shots show the result of drug-induced formication and the damaged caused by the victim's scratching and digging at skin, in an attempt to alleviate the creepy-crawly sensation.
Meth users with skin lesions may be especially prone to MRSA infection. Last year, investigators at the CDC and Georgia health departments reported an association between meth use and skin and soft-tissue infections (SSTI) due to MRSA in rural populations. Patients presenting to emergency or urgent-care facilities with MRSA SSTI were significantly more likely to have used meth within the last 3 months than control individuals (adjusted odds ratio, 5.10; 95% CI: 1.55, 16.79), and frequent skin picking was independently associated with MRSA SSTI (adjusted OR, 2.53; 95% CI: 1.22, 5.23).
MRSA: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
If you're at a loss to understand the slogan of yesterday's anti-vaccination march on Washington, DC—led by Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey—you're not alone. The costar of Witless Protection* and the star of Horton Hears a Who! evidently want to promote "cleaner" vaccines (whatever that means—more bacteriocidal Thimerosal?). But what they really want to do is alter the current CDC-recommended schedule for vaccinating children...to God only knows what.
Orac dives into the mess and provides commentary.
*You know, the vehicle for Larry the Cable Guy.
Harvard physician Tom Stossel and psychiatrist Daniel Carlat recently debated the Massachusetts Senate ban on pharma gifts to physicians. Unfortunately, the 7-minute discussion (hosted by New England Cable News) was given the typical short shrift by TV-based media and did not include input from informed economic or legal perspectives.
However, in the brief time provided, Stossel did attempt to consider the unintended and uninvestigated consequences of banning low-ticket pharma gifts (eg, pens, notepads, sandwiches), such as the loss of state business and jobs. It is important to note that there is little-to-no evidence indicating that such gifts negatively affect physician behavior or health care outcomes. Stossel also indicated that the ban may limit pharma funding to state institutions for research.
On the other hand, Daniel Carlat—a proponent of banning all pharma gifts and pharma-funded CME—would have you believe that physicians are incapable of autonomous judgment and should, therefore, be subject to his non-evidence-based gut morality.
A peptide vaccine, CDX-110 (Avant/Celldex, Pfizer), significantly prolonged survival in patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma multiforme, when administered with temozolomide (Temodar; Schering). Results of a phase 2 study, conducted at Duke University and MD Anderson, were presented Monday at the annual meeting of ASCO. CDX-110 targets a tumor-specific mutation of epidermal growth factor receptor, EGFRvIII, which is present in one third to one half of glioblastoma tumors.
In the ACT II trial, 23 patients with resected glioblastoma underwent radiation and temozolomide therapy (75 mg/m2/d), followed by subsequent monthly cycles of temozolomide (200 mg/m2; n = 13) or continuous therapy (100 mg/m2; n = 8). Intradermal injections of CDX-110 were administered simultaneously. The overall median survival, 33.1 months, was significantly longer than that (15.2 months) in historical, temozolomide-treated matched controls. Time to progression,* 16.6 months, was also significantly longer (matched controls, 6 months).
The investigators reported 1 allergic reaction to the vaccine but no other serious adverse events. Temozolomide-induced grade 2 lymphopenia was experienced by more than half of the patients. Among the 11 patients who experienced tumor recurrence, only 3 exhibited EGFRvIII positivity—suggesting that tumor resistance occurs through an antigen-escape mechanism.
CDX-110 is under investigation in a phase 2/3, multicenter, randomized clinical trial and was granted fast-track status by the FDA in January. In an ASCO media briefing, MD Anderson oncologist Mark Gilbert said that Senator Ted Kennedy, who underwent glioma resection at Duke earlier this week, would qualify for the vaccine only if all of his tumor had been removed.
*Defined as a new, radiographically demonstrable lesion ≥1 cm in any 2 perpendicular planes.
Sagittal MRI demonstrating glioblastoma from Wikimedia Commons.
The Public Broadcasting System is known for its high-quality cultural and investigative programming, like "Masterpiece," "Nova," and "Frontline." However, the station has also developed a disconcerting record for airing self-improvement claptrap (eg, Gary Null's "Mind Power"; Wayne Dyer's "Power of Intention"). The latest example comes in the form of psychiatrist Daniel Amen, whose infomercial, "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life," promotes the routine use of SPECT imaging to identify behavioral problems. The program aired on my local PBS channel last evening.
I lasted about 20 minutes: in part, because of Amen's simplistic nonsense about "prefrontal," "cingulate," and "limbic" personalities; in part, because of his promotion of diet, exercise, and his dubious proprietary supplements to alter these personalities; and in part, because of his annoying habit of constantly referring to some backroom prompter, a la Orson Welles in a Paul Masson wine ad.
In May, neurologist Robert Burton lasted a whole lot longer than I did while watching another installment of Amen's program, which promoted the prevention (yes, the prevention) of Alzheimer's disease. He provides a thoughtful critique at Slate.
But we're talking stoner hall of fame: the equivalent of 7 joints (~20 cones) per day for 10 years or longer.
Australian investigators found that MRI* volumes of the hippocampus and amygdala—cannabinoid-rich areas of the brain—were significantly smaller in 15 "carefully selected" heavy marijuana users, when compared with 16 matched controls. In particular, left (but not right) hippocampal volume correlated inversely with long-term cannabis use (r = -0.62), suggesting that the left hippocampus may be especially vulnerable to the drug's effects. Left hippocampal volume also correlated inversely with "subthreshold" psychotic symptoms (r = -0.77).
Image of groovy glass pipe from Wikimedia Commons.
Seven school-age children have contracted measles (rubeola) in DuPage County, IL, approximately 30 miles west of Chicago, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Investigation is pending, and the source of the infection remains unknown; however, inadequate immunization appears to be the cause of the outbreak.
In early May, the MMWR reported 64 cases of measles from January 1 to April 25 in the United States. A case of measles imported from Switzerland occurred April 17 in Chicago. As of May 23, the CDC has confirmed 103 US cases this year, the highest number for this time period since 2001.
Measles is spread by respiratory droplets or fomites, and infection occurs in 90% of those who are not vaccinated. The incubation period of the virus is 10-12 days, which is followed by mild-moderate fever, persistent cough, rhinitis, conjunctivitis, and pharyngitis. Approximately 3 days later, high fever, Koplik's spots (view image), and the characteristic skin rash (view image) appear. The measles rash—typically erythematous, blotchy, and slightly pruritic—begins on the face, hairline, and behind the ears and progresses to the chest, back, thighs, and feet. After approximately 2 weeks, the rash fades in reverse order.
Complications of measles include otitis (1/10), pneumonia, (1/15), encephalitis (1/1000), and thrombocytopenia. Pregnant women should avoid exposure to measles, owing to associated risks of miscarriage, premature labor, and low-birth-weight infants.
Measles cases are highly contagious, beginning 4 days before the rash appears and lasting until 4 days after the rash disappears. Vaccination confers approximately 98% immunity. The CDC recommends that all children should receive 2 doses of MMR vaccine (at 12-15 months and at 4-6 years). Adults without documented immunity should receive at least 1 MMR dose. International travelers should undergo age-dependent vaccination. Illinois reports an immunization coverage level among school-age children of 98%; however, the state does offer personal and religious exemptions.
Map of DuPage County from Wikipedia Commons.
Photos of Koplik's spots and measles rash from CDC.
Senator Ted Kennedy is undergoing 6-hour neurosurgery this morning at Duke University in North Carolina, presumably to resect a recently diagnosed malignant glioma in the senator's left parietal lobe. The operation will be performed by Allan Friedman, MD, according to news reports, who is Duke's neurosurgeon-in-chief. In addition to presumed resection, polymer wafers impregnated with carmustine (Gliadel; MGI Pharma) may be implanted into Kennedy's tumor bed (pure, but educated, speculation at the Pathophilia blog).
While a med student at Duke, I knew Friedman—who was then chief resident—cursorily. He was a rarity: a nice, sane neurosurgeon.
Update: Surgery was completed in approximately 3-1/2 hours, according to the NYT. Dr. Friedman reported that the "surgery was successful and accomplished our goals." Further description of the procedure was not provided. After recuperation, Kennedy is scheduled to undergo radiation and chemotherapy at MGH.