Monday’s story by New York Times reporter Gardiner Harris revealed that Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) had withheld studies showing serious risks associated with the world’s former best selling diabetes drug for 11 years.

GSK withheld results from a 1999 study that they conducted comparing Avandia to its main competitor, Actos. Rather than demonstrate that Avandia was safer, this 1999 study linked Avandia to a 43 percent increased risk of heart attacks. GSK never reported these findings to the FDA, and has spent the last 11 years trying to cover them up.  One GSK executive at that time even said in email exchanges that:

 “Per Sr. Mgmt request, these data should not see the light of day to anyone outside of GSK.”
In fact when one GSK official asked about whether two of the drug trials in question should be published, this same executive responded:
“Not a chance. These put Avandia in quite a negative light ….”
But the case against GSK doesn’t stop there. In addition to failing to disclose these results to FDA,  there is evidence that GSK researchers excluded a dozen serious heart problems in the total tally of adverse events from their 6-year ‘RECORD’ study on Avandia released in 2007.

One FDA reviewer  found a number of instances where “deaths that occurred while taking Avandia were inexplicably dropped from the final analysis.”

A former manager of the FDA’s drug safety unit, Rosemary Johann-Liang, revealed in a deposition last month that Glaxo withheld from FDA other records from 2001 showing Avandia may cause heart attacks and that Glaxo did not turn over an e- mail from researchers who concluded Avandia “strengthens the signals” of heart ailments.

Does this leaves anyone else with a feeling of déjà vu? This is Vioxx all over again. In 1999, manufacturer Merck withheld studies or other data documenting  the serious cardiovascular side effects associated with Vioxx. This block-buster drug rose to $2.5 billion in annual sales before its risks were revealed in 2004. Some estimate Vioxx led to 44,000 deaths and 80,000 heart attacks.  While this Vioxx scandal resulted in a record-breaking $4.8 billion dollar settlement of 26,000 personal injury claims, many feel that Merck got away with murder, or at least manslaughter. And while $4.8 billion is a lot of money even to Merck, their gross sales of Vioxx were far greater.

Another example of  drug industry executives putting profits ahead of patient safety.

What’s next for Avandia? And GSK?

Today’s panel at FDA will decide whether to recommend that the drug be withdrawn from the market.

GSK has negotiated over 10,000 settlements for $460 million, according to Business Week. This seems like a small amount. Certainly other cases are bound to follow.