Yaz testing and marketing raises ethical red flag

A new report in the New York Times about Bayer Healthcare’s bestselling oral contraceptive Yaz brings to light some serious ethical questions surrounding the company’s testing and marketing of what some studies suggest is a potentially dangerous drug for many women.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to Bayer Healthcare questioning the company’s ability to handle active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) testing. Bayer acknowledged the FDA’s concerns in an April response to the agency, but said that it had analyzed all relevant batches using its own testing standards and found that the quality of the U.S.-bound drugs was unaffected. Bayer stood by its quality control methods publicly as well.

Last month, the FDA sent another letter to Bayer, warning the company about “significant deviations” in its testing of key Yaz ingredients. “Your firm concluded that these … results were within the accepted variation of the analytical method and that the quality of these batches was not affected,” the FDA letter stated. “We disagree with your rationale and conclusion. An assay test is used to determine potency, not method variability.”

Rose Talarico, a spokeswoman for Bayer, told Reuters that the company was preparing a response to the FDA. “Based on our assessment at this point in time, we have identified no safety and efficacy impact on our products in relation to the [good manufacturing practice] issues as cited by the FDA,” she said.

The FDA warning to Bayer concerning its API testing wasn’t the first time the agency has found the company in violation of federal regulations. Last October, the FDA cited Bayer for false and misleading television advertisements that promoted Yaz for conditions for which it wasn’t approved, exaggerated its effectiveness, and downplayed the risks associated with the drug. FDA pressure prompted Bayer to launch another American ad campaign correcting the misrepresentations of the earlier ads.

Michael A. Santoro, an associate professor of ethics at the Rutgers Business School who studies pharmaceutical industry ethics, told the New York Times that the FDA warnings about quality control and advertising raise a red flag about Bayer’s attitude in complying with federal regulations. Santoro said that drug manufacturers ought to set higher standards for themselves than those established by the federal government.

“It tells me that [Bayer] is not understanding the business that it is in, that it is not understanding the health risks that it is posing to the public or the financial risk that it is creating for its shareholders,” Santoro told the New York Times.

His concerns seems to be bolstered by the growing number of Yaz lawsuits filed against Bayer in the U.S., which currently stand at 74. Some of the lawsuits have been filed by women allegedly harmed by Yaz who claim they were drawn to the drug because of Bayer’s misleading direct-to-consumer television ads.