28-Feb-2008

Drug Companies Rigging The Markets?

From The Hindu:
...the real story goes way beyond the question of Prozac. This new study — published, paradoxically, in an open-access journal — tells a fascinating story of buried data and of our collective failure, as a society, over half a century, to adequately regulate the colossal global $550b pharmaceutical industry.

The key issue is simple. In any situation, to make any kind of sensible decision about which treatment is best, a doctor must be able to take into account all of the available information. But drug companies have repeatedly been shown to bury unflattering data.

Sometimes they bury data that shows drugs to be actively harmful. This happened in the case of Vioxx and heart attacks, and SSRIs and suicidal thoughts. Such stories feel, intuitively, like cover-ups. But there are also more subtle issues at stake in the burying of results showing minimal efficacy, and these have only been revealed through the investigative work of medical academics.

One example came just last month (January). As I reported at the time, a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine dug out a list of all trials on SSRIs that had ever been registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and then went to look for those same trials in the academic literature. There were 37 studies which were assessed by the FDA as positive and, with a single exception, every one of those positive trials was written up, proudly, and published in full. But there were also 33 studies which had negative or iffy results and, of those, 22 were simply not published at all — they were buried — while 11 were written up and published in a way that portrayed them as having a positive outcome.
But I thought the markets were sifting the wheat from the chaff, rewarding the good companies and punishing the bad. But what do I know.

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