I’ve been copied in with an email to the General Medical Council about our old friend Alaistair Benbow…
“I write regarding Dr Alastair Benbow, of GlaxoSmithKline plc. I would like the GMC to now investigate and rule on the conduct of Dr Benbow, specifically in regard to his statements of support of the drug Seroxat (paroxetine).
I include some of Dr Benbow’s comments about Seroxat.
The exchange below is from a Panorama broadcast on 13 October 2002 The Secrets of Seroxat and is between the Panorama reporter Shelley Jofre and Alastair Benbow from Glaxo:
SHELLEY JOFRE: …It was the biggest ever trial of Seroxat in children [co-written by American child psychiatrist Neal Ryan] funded by Glaxo SmithKline. The depressed children who took Seroxat did better than those who took an older drug, or were just given sugar pills. That’s the good news. The bad news is that ten of the ninety-three children on Seroxat suffered serious psychiatric problems within weeks of going on the drug. Most of them had to be hospitalised.
There were five children out of ninety-three children on Seroxat who had suicidal thoughts and gestures. Another five out of that ninety-three had serious psychiatric side effects. Don’t you think parents would be worried about that if their child was to be given this drug?
Dr ALASTAIR BENBOW: I think what parents would be more worried about is the risk that their children have of committing suicide and other symptoms of severe depression if no treatment was available. I think parents would want treatments to be properly evaluated during clinical trials before their children are given any medicine. JOFRE: But the evidence here suggest that their children might be at more risk of suicide if they go on Seroxat.
BENBOW: No, the evidence is not there, there is no statistical difference between the groups. The reality of the situation is that in this trial, Seroxat was generally well tolerated by this difficult to treat population.
However in 2007 Glaxo says “The use of Seroxat in children is not recommended, as safety and efficacy have not been established in this population.”
And this from a Panorama interview in April 2003:
SHELLEY JOFRE: …And you still think that the drug [SEROXAT] could be safe for children?
Dr ALASTAIR BENBOW: Absolutely. It could be. We haven’t got a license in children yet. I feel sorry for anybody who has any side effects from treatment or indeed has experienced the terrible symptoms of depression. We are trying to help people. The evidence, however, is clear, these medicines are not linked with suicide, these medicines are not linked with an increased rate of self harm.
So the evidence was clear in 2003, was it? In 2007 we now know that is simply not the case due to secret Glaxo drug trial documents becoming public knowledge.
In ‘E-mails from the edge’ a Panorama programme broadcast in May 2003, Benbow once again defended Seroxat. He said “Whilst self-harm and suicidal thoughts are clearly a feature of depression, they have not been shown in carefully done studies to be a feature of treatment with these medicines [Seroxat].”
So that was in 2003 – if we fast-forward to May 2006, Glaxo makes a stunning admission in the USA.
In a press release in collaboration with the manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the FDA acknowledged the antidepressant Paxil caused a statistically significant increased rate of suicidality in depressed adults as measured in controlled clinical trials. The results are based on a re-analysis of all adult controlled clinical trials that compared Paxil with placebo.
Buried in the FDA/GSK release was an astounding fact: Depressed people are 6.4 times more likely to become suicidal while taking an antidepressant than while taking a sugar pill.
But remember Benbow, said in 2003 “…suicidal thoughts… have not been shown… to be a feature of treatment with these medicines [Seroxat].
So basically, whenever Seroxat is attacked, Glaxo will say what it needs to, rather than what is true.
We need urgently to examine the meaning of personal responsibility in corporate settings: specifically, the General Medical Council (GMC) should now investigate and rule on the conduct of Dr Alastair Benbow. I want the GMC to ask Benbow some questions, as he seemed so sincere in his advocacy for the drug, so replete with reassurance, that his position must now be clarified.
Did he critically review the relevant scientific evidence himself before making these claims? Was he a leader in some cynical process, or kept well ignorant and brilliantly coached in his denials? The latter seems much more probable, but we need to know for sure. Are these horrible and damaging drug disasters driven by knaves, fools, or victims – or some, none or all of the above?
You, the GMC, must now rise to the occasion: we need some definitive view”.
I’ll be interested to hear the GMC’s reply.