GlaxoSmithKline, the Diabetes Drug Avandia and The Intimidation of Dr. John Buse

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In November 2007, the ranking member of the United States Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Chuck Grassley (Republican, Iowa), released the report of an investigation into the the reaction by GlaxoSmithKline to criticism by Dr. John Buse of its diabetes drug Avandia.

A Pattern of Intimidation

In his statement on the floor of Congress, Grassley recounted that three years earlier he had convened public hearings into the worldwide withdrawal of Merck's anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx. "We found that the FDA [the U.S. Food and Drug Administration] maintained a cozy relationship with the drug industry and suppressed scientific dissent regarding agency actions on drug-safety," he stated. He also noted that the committee had been told of Merck "using its power, influence, and access to try and discredit FDA safety expert, Dr. David Graham" and that the company had also "tried to intimidate Stanford researcher Dr. Gurkirpal Singh." [1]

Turning to the staff report, Grassley stated that it showed, based on reviewing internal company documents, "how executives at GlaxoSmithKline intimidated Dr. John Buse, a medical researcher at the University of North Carolina." In internal emails, Grassley said, "company officials discussed the possibility of threats against Dr. Buse. These threats included the possibility of filing a lawsuit. Company executives called Dr. Buse an 'Avandia Renegade' and had him sign a retraction letter they wanted to give to financial analysts. These analysts were evaluating the company’s products for investors." [1]

The reaction to the three scientists, Grassley stated, were instances of where "companies intimidated researchers who dared to express concerns about risky drugs. And in the case of both Vioxx and Avandia the drugs actually turned out to carry some serious risks. What I am here to say today, is that attacks on medical researchers by the pharmaceutical industry must stop. And stop now. Until this practice ends, I want to let America's scientists know that I am very interested in their concerns. Scientists should feel free to contact my office if a pharmaceutical company threatens their career or attacks their reputation when they raise the alarm about a possibly dangerous drug." [1]

The Report on GSK's Reaction to Buse's Comments on Avandia

The Committee on Finance staff report contains:

  • details of internal GSK emails at the time the Buse first raised his concerns over Avandia in 1999;
  • a timetable on the whole controversy to date; and
  • details of how the company responded after the committee raised questions in May 2007 about a research scientist being intimidated. "Instead of acknowledging the misdeed to investors, apologizing to patients, and pledging to change corporate behavior," the committee wrote, "GSK launched a public relations campaign of denial." [2]

What you can do

Drawing on the report available here(pdf), you can help fill out the detail in the space below on how GSK sought to counter concerns Buse raised about Avandia.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Senator Chuck Grassley, "Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa: Intimidation of Scientists", November 15, 2007. (Pdf)
  2. Committee Staff Report to the Chairman and Ranking Member, Committee on Finance, United States Senate, The Intimidation of Dr. John Buse and the Diabetes Drug Avandia, November 2007.

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