Fibromyalgia grants raise eyebrows

Is fibromyalgia for real? The question keeps popping up, despite the protests of patient advocates and drugmakers alike. Their contention: That they are educating the public in general and medicine in particular about a real-but-misunderstood illness. But critics call Eli Lilly and Pfizer's spending on promotional expenses and grants to patient groups "disease-mongering."

In a long take from the Associated Press, the fibromyalgia question is sliced and diced. Is fibromyalgia just a convenient name for symptoms caused by other ailments? Or is it, as a Pfizer vice president told the wire service, "the evolution of greater awareness about a condition that has generally been neglected or poorly managed?"

Here are the numbers, according to the AP: Pfizer's Lyrica, approved for fibromyalgia treatment in mid-2007, saw sales rise to $702 million in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with $395 million for the quarter before the new indication. Eli Lilly's Cymbalta got the fibromyalgia nod in June 2008, and it saw sales grow to $721 million in the most recent quarter, compared with $442 million in the first quarter of 2007.

But the number that's causing all the talk is $6 million. Lilly and Pfizer gave that much during the first nine months of 2008 to not-for-profits, in support of medical conferences and educational campaigns about fibromyalgia. It may not sound like much, but critics say that the grants are very influential, spotlighting ailments and boosting the number of diagnoses. (You'll recall similar worries about restless legs syndrome.) Disease advocacy groups say that's good, because patients need to be treated; critics say it's bad and unnecessary. And the jury is still out.

- read the AP article