Ties between U psychiatrist, drug maker scrutinized

Internal company documents question conclusions drawn from Dr. S. Charles Schulz’s research.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) âÄî The ties between a top University of Minnesota psychiatrist and drug maker AstraZeneca have come under scrutiny with the release of internal company documents questioning conclusions drawn from the scientist’s research. An internal analysis in 2000 by the London-based company found that its blockbuster antipsychotic drug, Seroquel, was no better than an older, cheaper antipsychotic. But two months later, Dr. S. Charles Schulz used much of the same data to publicly report that AstraZeneca’s drug was more effective. Critics of the industry say it’s further evidence that drug companies can spin or suppress research as they see fit. It also bolsters those who claim that drug companies are paying noted doctors such as Schulz for research results that advance their marketing. State records show that Schulz received $112,000 in consulting fees and university grants from 2002 through 2007 from AstraZeneca. Schulz’ research has recently gotten another look as AstraZeneca released documents to attorneys last month as part of a federal court case in Florida. They included the company analysis and e-mails about whether to forward the negative results to Schulz for his presentation to the American Psychiatric Association in 2000. “The data don’t look good,” one executive wrote. “In fact, I don’t think we can even get a paper out of this.” The lawsuit accuses the company of withholding data about Seroquel’s elevated risk of diabetes and obesity; it doesn’t focus on Schulz’ research. Schulz defends his work as accurate and ethical. However, he concedes that the corporate press release from his presentation to the APA might have exaggerated his work in calling Seroquel “significantly superior” to the then-industry leading Haldol, which has a high rate of serious side effects. “You know,” he said, “I can’t disagree with that.” In 2003, he published a study with different methodology that found the effectiveness of the two drugs was about the same. Other well-accepted studies at the time had reached the same conclusion. AstraZeneca spokesman Tony Jewell said in a prepared statement that at the 2000 APA meeting, Schulz “accurately presented the data as described in his poster, and clearly explained the methodology he used in arriving at a conclusion in this particular analysis.” Schulz said AstraZeneca never asked him to modify his results, nor has he ever agreed to withhold research the company wouldn’t like. Just last year, for example, Schulz published an industry-funded study that found that another antipsychotic, Zyprexa, was no better than a placebo pill in treating borderline personality disorder. Schulz said he has reduced his role with drug companies, even as University of Minnesota leaders are also considering tighter rules about how it handles industry money. “As these issues have begun to unfold, I decided I didn’t want to do anything that would hurt my institution,” Schulz said. “I’ve curtailed activities for that reason.” The dean of the medical school, Dr. Deborah Powell, is aware of the controversy and has offered Schulz her full support, according to a university spokesman. Dr. Carl Elliot, a University of Minnesota bioethics professor, said the differing AstraZeneca studies are suspicious, but it’s hard to assign fault. “Was Schulz fooled?” Elliott asked. “Or was he complicit?” ___ Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com