Antibiotic Ketek Trial in Children

An article by Gardiner Harris of The New York Times (below) reported that a recent review by F.D.A. safety officials revealed that the “unusually toxic” antibiotic, Ketek, which has caused liver failure in healthy adults “is being tested as a treatment for ear infections and tonsillitis in nearly 4,000 infants and children in more than a dozen countries, including the U.S.”

According to the FDA’s safety review, “12 adult patients in the United States have suffered liver failure, including four who died; 23 others suffered serious liver injury."  There were 110 spontaneous reports to MedWatch of liver damage associated with Ketek, “most of which occurred in otherwise healthy people.” That represents between 1% and 10% of actual cases.

What is so troubling is how anyone with even a minimal conscience can justify exposing infants and children (6 months to 13 years old) to a drug described as “unusually toxic” for a trivial condition that resolves by itself in 87% of cases?

Not only that, as Harris reported, the major Ketek clinical trial (24,000 patients) “was marred by fraud. One of the investigators on the study is now in federal prison; another lost his medical license.”

Nevertheless, against all defensible considerations, the FDA allowed the company to report partial (untainted ??) European data to obtain licensure: “Although it is unusual for the agency to approve a drug based upon its use elsewhere, in April 2004, it did just that, approving Ketek to treat sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia.”
 
One has to wonder if FDA administrators are covertly acting in concert with terrorists whose goal is to unleash hazardous biochemicals to harm the American public.

One thing is clear, FDA safety officers are on a collision course against top agency administrators who seem intent on preserving drug sales no matter how many people are killed as a result.

Dr. Rosemary Johann-Liang, the FDA safety officer who reviewed the raw data from Ketek clinical trials urged immediate action to protect the public from the lethal effects of this antibiotic:

"The safety officials wrote in their review that the agency should consider forcing Sanofi-Aventis to withdraw Ketek from the market, severely restrict its uses, even in adults, or add a prominent warning to its label about potentially fatal side effects." The safety review concluded that the rate of liver failure in patients taking Ketek compared to other antibiotics was four-fold.

FDA administrators’ reaction is no action; the say they are engaging in "ongoing discussions" with Sanofi-Aventis, and calling the agency’ safety officer’s assessment: "a preliminary, raw assessment.” Such delaying tactics protect the flow of cash.
 
Indeed, the Times reports that Sanofi-Aventis "planned to give Ketek as a first-line therapy."  Adding insult to injury, the FDA is allowing the company to test this drug in infants who do not suffer from any life-threatening illness for which this drug offers any unique therapeutic benefit.

Given the life-threatening risk associated with Ketek, as well as it causing "blurred vision and loss of consciousness, problems that are unique to it," Dr. Johann-Liang asks

"How does one justify balancing the risk of fatal liver failure against one day less of ear pain?"
 

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
veracare@ahrp.org
 

 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/08/science/08drug.html?

THE NEW YORK TIMES
 June 8, 2006
Halt Is Urged for Trials of Antibiotic in Children
By GARDINER HARRIS

A Food and Drug Administration official called in May for a drug company to halt clinical trials of an antibiotic in children because the drug could be deadly, according to internal memorandums sent to other F.D.A. officials.
 
The drug, Ketek, made by Sanofi-Aventis, is being tested as a treatment for ear infections and tonsillitis in nearly 4,000 infants and children in more than a dozen countries, including the United States, according to postings on a government Web site. But Ketek, which is currently approved for use only in adults, has been reported to cause liver failure, blurred vision and loss of consciousness in adults.
 
"How does one justify balancing the risk of fatal liver failure against one day less of ear pain?" Dr. Rosemary Johann-Liang, an official in the Office of Drug Safety at the agency, wrote in one of the memorandums, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.
 
Sanofi-Aventis is sponsoring four clinical trials in children ages 6 months to 13 years, according the Web site posting. The drug agency approved plans for the trials.
 
There is growing evidence that Ketek is unusually toxic, according to a recent review by F.D.A. safety officials. Twelve adult patients in the United States have suffered liver failure, including four who died; 23 others suffered serious liver injury.
 
The safety officials wrote in their review that the agency should consider forcing Sanofi-Aventis to withdraw Ketek from the market, severely restrict its uses, even in adults, or add a prominent warning to its label about potentially fatal side effects.
 
More than five million prescriptions for Ketek have been written in the United States since its approval two years ago.
 
Asked about the memorandum written by Dr. Johann-Liang, an F.D.A. spokeswoman, Susan Bro, said that it was "a preliminary, raw assessment" and that "the final decision will be made by experts who have the full benefit of a large section of opinion and scientific fact."
 
Melissa Feltmann, a spokeswoman for Sanofi-Aventis, said in an e-mail message, "We are engaged in ongoing discussions with the F.D.A. regarding Ketek."
 
Other antibiotics cause liver failure, but Ketek seems to do so almost four times as often, the safety officials concluded in the review.
 
Ketek can also cause blurred vision and loss of consciousness, problems that are unique to it. In her memorandum, Dr. Johann-Liang asked how Sanofi-Aventis’s investigators were going to assess whether infants were suffering blurred vision.
 
"If we cannot monitor for this event in infants/young children appropriately in the clinical trial setting, what can we conclude from the safety results of the trial?" she asked.
 
Dr. Danny Benjamin, an infectious-disease specialist at Duke University who was consulted separately by the drug agency, concluded that the pediatric trials with Ketek were a cause for concern and "hard to support," according to the memorandums obtained by The New York Times.
 
Dr. Benjamin did not respond to voice-mail or e-mail messages left for him yesterday.
 
In his memorandum, Dr. Benjamin said that in up to 87 percent of cases, pediatric ear infections resolved within a few days without treatment. Tests of an unusually risky antibiotic in infants with ear infections might be justified if the infants had already been treated unsuccessfully with safer antibiotics first, he wrote.
 
Sanofi-Aventis planned to give Ketek as a first-line therapy, according to the company’s trial descriptions.
 
The drug agency’s actions in regard to Ketek are being investigated by Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as well as by Representatives Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Henry A. Waxman of California, both Democrats.
 
Sanofi-Aventis first asked the agency to approve the drug in February 2000. But officials demurred, citing reports of side effects. So the company undertook a study of Ketek in 24,000 patients to prove its safety. The trial was marred by fraud. One of the investigators on the study is now in federal prison; another lost his medical license.
 
The F.D.A. said it dismissed the study’s results and instead asked the company to report its experience with Ketek in Europe, where it was approved in 2001. Although it is unusual for the agency to approve a drug based upon its use elsewhere, in April 2004, it . did just that, approving Ketek to treat sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia.
 
Since then, problems with the drug have continued to mount. By April, the agency had reports of 110 cases of liver problems associated with Ketek, most of which occurred in otherwise healthy people, according to the safety review. In one, a 49-year-old woman took no more than two doses of the drug before becoming nauseous and vomiting. She was hospitalized five days later and died.
 
Since they are submitted voluntarily, these kinds of case reports usually represent only a small fraction — estimates range from 1 percent to 10 percent — of actual drug problems. The reports that the F.D.A. has received so far are unusual because of their "rapid tempo and severity," the agency’s internal safety report said.
 
The agency officials estimated that Ketek caused acute liver failure in 23 people for every 10 million prescriptions, about four times the rate of such events seen in other antibiotics.
 
In 1999, sales of the antibiotic Trovan were severely restricted after it was shown to cause liver failure in 58 people for every 10 million prescriptions.
 
In her memorandum, Dr. Johann-Liang suggested that Ketek’s risks outweighed its benefits.
 
She noted that powerful antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones can also damage the liver. But she said that those drugs were available in intravenous forms and "are also used for more serious infectious diseases rather than solely for minor upper respiratory indications," as Ketek is.
 
Dr. Johann-Liang wrote in her memorandum that the parents of patients in Sanofi-Aventis’s pediatric trials must be better informed about Ketek’s risks "in order for any of these trials to continue to proceed."
 
She added that the parents "need to know that the ‘close monitoring’ for visual events is not possible in very young children, and the long-term consequences of such adverse reactions are unknown for the developing system."
 
Dr. Benjamin agreed that the brochure about the trials and informed-consent material given to parents "must address in plain language the risks, and severity of risks, of adverse events."
 
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
 

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