Can Low-Dose Avandia for Diabetes Avoid Lethal Side Effects?

Calls to Pull Avandia From the Market

Avandia's safety was called into question in 2007 when an analysis by Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, showed those on the drug had a 43 percent higher risk of heart attacks and a 64 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease.

In February 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's associate director of drug safety, David Graham, echoed these concerns, recommending in a public report that Avandia be removed from the market.

The report said the drug could be linked to about 500 additional heart attacks and 300 additional cases of heart failure each month than would occur if its comeptitor, Actos, were used exclusively.

This call to pull Avandia off the market was given amid thousands of lawsuits brought against GlaxoSmithKline by patients alleging that the drug caused heart attacks.

The company has faced an estimated 13,000 claims for damages involving Avandia, according to The Associated Press. thousands of which were settled Tuesday. Some 700 Avandia cases were settled in May for $60 million.

Concerns Remain Over Avandia

What's more, a Senate Finance Committee report in April suggested that GlaxoSmithKline may have withheld information concerning the dangers of the drug -- a claim that the company denies in a written response on its website.

Even if Wednesday's study offers hope of a safer treatment, as Zinman says, some diabetes specialists say that there would have to be overwhelming evidence -- something that this single study cannot offer.

"Any drug used for prevention must be even safer that [those used for] treatment," says Dr. David Nathan, director of the Diabetes Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"Whether the one half dose...will avoid the safety issues that have led many physicians to stop using it is unknown."

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