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Ellison, George T. H.; Kaufman, Jay S.; Head, Rosemary F.; Martin, Paul A.; & Kahn, Jonathan D. (2008). Flaws in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Rationale for Supporting the Development and Approval of BiDil as a Treatment for Heart Failure Only in Black Patients. Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, 36(3), 449-457. PMCID: PMC2683256


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) rationale for supporting the development and approval of BiDil (a combination of hydralazine hydrochloride and isosorbide dinitrate; H-I) for heart failure specifically in black patients was based on under-powered, post hoc subgroup analyses of two relatively old trials (V-HeFT I and II), which were further complicated by substantial covariate imbalances between racial groups. Indeed, the only statistically significant difference observed between black and white patients was found without any adjustment for potential confounders in samples that were unlikely to have been adequately randomized. Meanwhile, because the accepted baseline therapy for heart failure has substantially improved since these trials took place, their results cannot be combined with data from the more recent trial (A-HeFT) amongst black patients alone. There is therefore little scientific evidence to support the approval of BiDil only for use in black patients, and the FDA's rationale fails to consider the ethical consequences of recognizing racial categories as valid markers of innate biological difference, and permitting the development of group-specific therapies that are subject to commercial incentives rather than scientific evidence or therapeutic imperatives. This paper reviews the limitations in the scientific evidence used to support the approval of BiDil only for use in black patients; calls for further analysis of the V-HeFT I and II data which might clarify whether responses to H-I vary by race; and evaluates the consequences of commercial incentives to develop racialized medicines. We recommend that the FDA revise the procedures they use to examine applications for race-based therapies to ensure that these are based on robust scientific claims and do not undermine the aims of the 1992 Revitalization Act.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics


Ellison, George T. H.
Kaufman, Jay S.
Head, Rosemary F.
Martin, Paul A.
Kahn, Jonathan D.