Akathisia-gate, Bristol-Myers Squibb's ongoing efforts to distract attention from the major side effect of its blockbuster antipsychotic drug Abilify, has expanded into a scandal that was covered on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal.
Staff writer Shirley Wang profiles Andy Behrman, a man with bipolar disorder who gained notoriety when he published the book Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania. According to the article, representatives of BMS approached Behrman after the book's publication and asked him to do promotional speeches for Abilify, which was about to gain FDA approval for the treatment of mania. He initially signed a contract for $40,000, and eventually made up to $10,000/day.
The problem is, soon after he started taking Abilify, Behrman noticed restless sensations in his legs--akathisia. He said he told his BMS handlers about the side effect, which the company denies. At any rate, apparently the money he was receiving was just too good for him to tell the truth about his side effects, and he continued providing glowing endorsements. He said that the company provided him with talking points, and instructed him to reiterate in his talks that Abilify had no side effects and to avoid mentioning that he was being paid by BMS.
Of course, the company denies any malfeasance, claiming that Behrman requested an exhorbitant $7.5 million for further talks, and that the company refused the offer. The implication is that Behrman is simply a disgruntled former hired gun. We may never know the entire truth of the matter. But knowing the sordid history of pharmaceutical marketing tactics, I'm giving Behrman the benefit of the doubt here.