Astra ex: I was pressured on Seroquel

A former AstraZeneca scientist has alleged that marketing types pressured him to pretend that Seroquel wouldn't cause weight gain, despite data showing that it did. John Blenkinsopp, former U.K. medical manager for the company, said on the BBC's File on 4 program that data he had at the time of the antipsychotic drug's launch showed statistically significant weight gain among Seroquel patients.

Despite this data, Blenkinsopp said, the company pushed him to sign off on a "neutral weight gain" claim. "I was put under quite a significant amount of pressure by the marketeers to sign off claims with regards to the lack of weight gain," he maintained. Why? Because the company wanted a "differential advantage" over rival antipsychotic drugs, he said. In the U.S. the drug's marketing claimed that it wouldn't cause weight gain.

Seroquel has been on the market for years now, having been launched in 1997 to treat schizophrenia. It subsequently piled up new indications--for children and youth, and for bipolar disorder. Now, the company is facing thousands of plaintiffs who claim in lawsuits that the drug caused their diabetes. So far, AstraZeneca has fought off those legal challenges; judges have dismissed suits, saying that there's not enough evidence linking Seroquel with the plaintiffs' illness.

Of course, one of the risk factors for diabetes is weight gain. And by now, it's common knowledge that atypical antipsychotics are linked with weight gain in many patients. Blenkinsopp's comments have already touched off calls for changes to drug approval processes in the U.K. Will similar changes be suggested in the U.S.?

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