GSK gears up for media crusade

GlaxoSmithKline is conducting a campaign in the US and UK to discredit new research that further casts doubt on the safety of its type 2 diabetes treatment Avandia.

GSK: defends treatment
GSK: defends treatment

A report by a team of German scientists led by Dr Bernd Richter, of the Heinrich-Heine University was published last week by medical res­earch evaluation organisation the Cochrane Collaboration.

It went as far as to recommend that ‘if possible, other anti-diabetic medications should be employed’.

GSK has set up a UK and US based crisis communications team. UK head of ­corporate relations Phil Thomson said the team would ‘question the validity of the data that is being ­presented and reassuring patients about the product’s safety’.

This has included a rebu­ttal of the claims that the drug increases the risk of heart att­acks and a condemnation of the research techniques used.

The German report is not the first time the drug’s saf­ety has been questioned. A damning report by cardiologist Dr Steve Nissan app­eared in the New England Journal of Medicine in May, claimed that the drug inc­reased the risk of heart att­acks by 43 per cent.

But the latest report comes on the eve of a decision by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the future of the drug. The FDA was meeting this week to discuss a range of options inc­luding ordering its withdrawal or introducing stri­cter labels or warnings, following a series of critical medical reports linking the drug to increased risk of heart attacks.

The crisis communi­cations team in the UK is three-strong, headed by Thomson and including directors of media relations Joss Mathieson and Claire Bough. The team in the US is also three-strong, headed by US head of corporate relations Nancy Pekarek and ass­isted by Cohn & Wolfe.

Avandia was authorised for use in the EU by the European healthcare regulatory body the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in 2000.

The EMA released a ­statement in May, shortly ­after the New England Journal of Medicine report, advising patients to continue using the treatment.

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