Heart Association Finds Drug Risks "Inconclusive" After Taking $3.6M From Its Maker Glaxo

Last Updated Feb 26, 2010 2:34 PM EST

The American Heart Association said that the data are "inconclusive" on whether GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)'s diabetes drug Avandia carries an increased risk of heart problems. But the organization's statement does not disclose the fact that GSK gave AHA more than $3.6 million in donations since 2006.

The AHA has slipped up on disclosure issues before. In 2008, the company put out a statement saying it did not believe Vytorin was "unsafe" after a study of the cholesterol drug found it did not reduce artery plaque. Only later did it highlight the fact that Schering-Plough and Merck (MRK), Vytorin's marketers, were big donors to AHA.

Getting to the bottom of whether Avandia does or does not increase heart attacks in its patients is crucial, both for the thousands of patients who still take the drug and for GSK, which earned $310 million in revenues on Avandia in Q4 2009. The data are, indeed, confusing, and you can cherry-pick arguments from them that support both sides.

The fact that the AHA -- which millions trust for its advice on heart health -- has not properly disclosed its apparent financial conflict of interest in either its press release or its full statement in the journal Circulation, is therefore disappointing. (I'm not suggesting that the authors of the statement have let money get in the way of their science, just that appearances of conflicts ought to be disclosed.) The AHA said:

The data are inconclusive on heart risks from a class of blood sugar-lowering drugs called thiazolidinediones (TZDs) such as pioglitazone (Actos) or rosiglitazone (Avandia), but the medications should be used with close monitoring from healthcare providers
In AHA's 2008-2009 fiscal year, the last period for which numbers are available, the organization received $131 million in funding from drug and medical device companies. Of that, $600,000 came from GSK. Historically, the company has been a generous donor to AHA: Related: