(CBS) Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, is one of the most distinguished physicians in the world. He has developed fame and notoriety due to his challenging of the safety of certain drugs.

On Friday’s The Early Show Nissen sat down with Harry Smith to discuss his career in medicine.

Nissen raised a red flag regarding Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory drug, in 2001. He and his colleagues researched the drug and published their findings in the Journal of American Medical Association. Their study showed that Vioxx might be causing blood clots, which led to heart attacks.

In 2004, Merck, the drug’s manufacturer, took Vioxx off the market. “For us, it’s about patients first,” said Nissen. “We took the heat and stuck to our guns and stood by our manuscript through 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 when the drug was withdrawn by Merck voluntarily.”

Currently, Nissen is trying to raise awareness about the potential dangers of Avandia, the popular drug for people with Type 2 diabetes.

While Avandia has proven to be effective at lowering blood sugar, Nissen noticed problems with the drug and did not wish to keep this information to himself. Nissen said, “Cardiovascular events – heart attacks – were going in the wrong direction. There were more heart attacks in the patients that received Avandia than those that got other diabetes drugs.”

In May, the FDA issued a safety warning that Avandia “may increase the risk of heart attack and heart-related deaths.” This is a result of Dr. Nissen and his research team’s work.

On Monday, the FDA is scheduled to meet to discuss Avandia. Nissen believes there are three potential outcomes of the meeting: the FDA will either do nothing, attach a strong warning on Avandia, or remove Avandia from the market entirely.

When asked about why Nissen is compelled to research the dangers of certain drugs, he said that regular use of medications, while necessary, needs to be monitored. “We need to have a balance and understanding (of) the effectiveness of drugs, but also the risks of drugs,” he said.

Nissen stressed the importance of always challenging your doctor when you are issued a medication. Always find out both the benefits and the risks of the drugs prior to taking the drug.

He dispelled rumors of becoming the new head of the FDA. Nissen said, “I love my job. I love the Cleveland Clinic. I am staying in Cleveland … for the time being.”


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