22 February 2017

More reasons to question drug-funded research

Drugs Pharmaceuticals


Many medicines may be less safe and effective than thought, according to researchers behind a new Cochrane review that found industry-funded studies were more favourable to the sponsor’s drug than independent ones.

The paper built on a 2012 Cochrane review, confirming earlier findings and showing that industry-funded studies were 27% more likely to publish favourable efficacy results compared with studies that were not industry funded.

While there didn’t appear to be any difference in reporting on harms, industry-funded studies were 34% more likely to have favourable conclusions, and less likely to have a conclusion that agreed with less favourable results.

This analysis provided “definitive evidence that pharmaceutical industry funding of drug studies biases the results and conclusions to look favourably towards the drug of the sponsor,” study author Professor Lisa Bero, of the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, said.

This was especially concerning for doctors and patients, given the evidence on new devices and drugs was often driven by the companies making them, co-author Professor Emeritus Joel Lexchin, of York University, said.

“Our views about the effectiveness and safety of many medicines may be distorted,” Professor Lexchin said.

Pharmaceutical and device manufacturers had a strong vested interest in their product being presented in a positive light, the authors wrote.

As well as selectively reporting positive results and interpreting the results in a favourable way in the conclusions, there were a number of other subtle ways sponsors could influence the research, the authors wrote.

This included influencing the way the study question was framed, the design of the study, how it was conducted and how the data was analysed.

At the moment, it is not a universal requirement for journal articles to list the role the sponsor had in the design, conduct and publication of the study.

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017; online  16 February