URL Pharma critics decry 'shake-down letters'

Call it an object lesson in the pitfalls of reacting to online chatter about drugs. The drug in question: Colcrys, a new FDA-approved version of the common-and-very-old gout treatment colchicine, which is so old, it predates the agency. The company: URL Pharma, which developed Colcrys as an alternative to regular old colchicine, which isn't FDA-approved.

The situation: Rheumatologists who weren't happy with URL's new drug, largely because it costs some $5 per pill versus the pennies-per-pill price on colchicine, criticized the drug on an online message board for rheumatologists. The doctors suggested that colchicine should be used instead of Colcrys--and this suggestion made URL unhappy.

The company's general counsel then sent letters to some of the critics asking them to "clarify the record," the Wall Street Journal reports, adding that there were "potential risks and liability" involved in use of the old, unapproved colchicine. One of those doctors, John Goldman, tells the Journal, "These are shake-down letters to silence" criticism.

The company says the letters were merely an attempt to educate doctors about its clinical trials of Colcrys and about proper use of the drug. URL also says it wasn't targeting those message-board posters specifically, but sent letters to 150 "misinformed physicians" who had "mischaracterized unapproved colchicine as being safe or legal" in opinion pieces and elsewhere. 

- read the WSJ piece