9-Misc: Research funded by drug companies is 'biased'
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TITLE: Research funded by drug companies is 'biased'
SOURCE: The New Scientist, UK, by Shaoni Bhattacharya
DATE: May 30, 2003
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Research funded by drug companies is 'biased'
Research funded by drug companies is more likely to produce results that
favour the sponsor's product, reveals a new study. Researchers analysed
30 previous reports examining pharmaceutical industry-backed research and
found the conclusions of such research were four times more likely to be
positive than research backed by other sponsors. "What we found was that
in almost all cases there was a bias - a rather heavy bias - in favour
[of a drug] when the study was industry funded," study leader Joel
Lexchin told New Scientist. The main reasons for this, say the team, may
be that positive studies are more likely to be published than negative
ones. Also, inappropriate comparison drugs may be used in these trials,
skewing findings in favour of the tested product. The new analysis is
published in a special issue of the British Medical Journal, which
focuses on the close relationship between doctors and the pharmaceutical
Two to entangle
"Doctors, drug companies and most importantly patients would all benefit
from greater distance," cautions BMJ editor Richard Smith. "It does of
course take two to entangle, and we hope that nobody will see this theme
issue as anti-drug company." But Richard Ley, a spokesman for the
Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, rejects the study's
findings. "The average drug takes 10 to 12 years to develop and costs
£350 million - even if you are the most selfish company in the world you
can't afford to risk the time and money [to produce biased results]," he
told New Scientist. The clinical trials are overseen from start to finish
by independent ethics committees, says Ley, with final checks made by a
country's licensing authorities.
Lexchin, an expert in pharmaceutical policy, at York University in
Toronto, Canada, and colleagues analysed 30 studies examining drug-
industry backed trials between 1966 to 2002. Industry sponsored studies
were less likely to be published than research funded by other sources.
However, drug company backed studies were four times more likely to show
favourable results than studies funded by other sponsors. But of the 13
studies that looked at the scientific methods used, none reported that
the industry-backed trials were of lower quality. Lexchin says this is
because standard scales used to examine scientific quality do not cover
all issues, such as what drug was used in a trial as a comparison.
Industry-backed studies often compare a new drug to placebo or a second
line agent, he says, which makes it easier to get a positive result for a
new drug. "My preference would be to compare with what's recommended as
the current best therapy," he says. Lexchin notes that in Canada and the
US, the pharmaceutical industry is the largest funder of medical
research. "It does have implications in terms of whether or not we can
believe the results of research they are funding" he says. "I certainly
hope we can, but our study raises questions."
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