Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How Pharma Funded Research Cherry Picks Results

This is an article from the Scientific American  of an excerpt from the book, Bad Pharma: How drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients, by Ben Goldacre, published by Faber and Faber, Inc, 2013 bringing to light Clinical trial data on new drugs is systematically withheld from doctors and patients, bringing into question many of the premises of the pharmaceutical industry—and the medicine we use.

The core premise of this article and indeed the book is that industry-funded trials are more likely to produce a positive, flattering result than independently funded trials.

In 2010, three researchers from Harvard and Toronto found all the trials looking at five major classes of drug—antidepressants, ulcer drugs and so on—then measured two key features: were they positive, and were they funded by industry? They found over five hundred trials in total: 85 per cent of the industry-funded studies were positive, but only 50 per cent of the government funded trials were. That’s a very significant difference.

In 2007, researchers looked at every published trial that set out to explore the benefit of a statin. These are cholesterol lowering drugs which reduce your risk of having a heart attack, they are prescribed in very large quantities, and they will loom large in this book. This study found 192 trials in total, either comparing one statin against another, or comparing a statin against a different kind of treatment. Once the researchers controlled for other factors (we’ll delve into what this means later), they found that industry-funded trials were twenty times more likely to give results favoring the test drug. Again, that’s a very big difference.

In 2006, researchers looked into every trial of psychiatric drugs in four academic journals over a ten-year period, finding 542 trial outcomes in total. Industry sponsors got favorable outcomes for their own drug 78 per cent of the time, while independently funded trials only gave a positive result in 48 per cent of cases. If you were a competing drug put up against the sponsor’s drug in a trial, you were in for a pretty rough ride: you would only win a measly 28 per cent of the time.

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