The Washington Post, which long ago broke the Watergate break-in story that eventually brought down a U.S. President, broke another burgeoning scandal on Nov. 24 when it sounded an alarm for all citizens in an article titled: As drug industry’s influence over research grows, so does the potential for bias. See the full story here.
The article uncovers, at length, how drug companies pay for and increasingly control and spin research in favor of their own drugs. The result is they sometimes overstate a drug’s benefits and fail to reveal its actual dangers.
GlaxoSmithKline, for example, presented Avandia as safe and effective. Eleven authors of one crucial Avandia study, however, were paid by the company: “Four were employees and held company stock,” wrote the Post. “The other seven were academic experts who had received grants or consultant fees from the firm.” The problem was that Avandia raised the risk of heart attacks, and its cost-benefit analysis never did add up. A Food and Drug Administration scientist later estimated that the drug had been associated with 83,000 heart attacks and deaths.
The Post piece also points out that, “Arguably the most prestigious medical journal in the world, The New England Journal of Medicine, regularly prints articles over which drug companies and their employees can exert enormous influence.” The NEJM – the Post details – published 73 articles in one year reviewing original studies of drugs approved by the FDA since 2000, along with some experimental drugs. Sixty of those articles were funded by a drug company; 50 were co-written by their own employees; 37 featured a lead writer (usually an academic) who had previously been paid by the sponsoring drug company as a consultant, or had received grants or speaker fees from the company that sponsored the study.
Other industry-funded research papers published by NEJM led to conclusions later contradicted by other studies, as in the cases of the anemia drug Epogen and heart drug Natrecor. “When the company pays the bill, opportunities for bias abound,” the Post writes. “Executives seeking to promote (drugs) can design research that makes [them] look better than
they are; select like-minded academics to perform the work; run the statistics in ways that make their own drugs look better.”
This money-tainted research climate is paramount to Big Pharma’s defense in nearly every drug or device case injured citizens attempt to prosecute. Plaintiffs must always hope and pray their lawyers will be able to uncover the deeper truths behind the reams of research materials put forth by vested interests so that juries will be able to see through the built-in bias and see what’s hidden beneath the corporate veil.