Big Pharma: Heads They Win, Tails Patients Lose

If you played a coin-flipping game where you could show all your winners and hide your losing tosses, you’d be way ahead. But nobody would let you get away with that, would they? If you’re Big Pharma, you get away with hiding the evidence every day, as Dr. Ben Goldacre explains in an op-ed in the New York Times.

Drug companies developing new products get to run their own tests and publish only the results they like. Independent audits are few and far between.

This well known scandal was supposed to have been cured in 2007 when a new law required that the results of every clinical trial of a drug be published within one year of completion, or face a fine of $10,000 a day from the FDA. But as Goldacre reports, the first audit of this law was published in 2012 and found that four of every five trials had ignored the reporting requirements.

How many fines have been issued since the start of the new law?


Goldacre also reports that a pledge of medical journal editors back in 2005 to never publish drug trial results unless the study had been publicly registered at its outset (to solve the same “bury the bad evidence” problem) has also failed to work. More than half of published research studies since then have not been properly registered, according to one audit.

Why is this bad for patients? Because we don’t really know if the expensive drugs we take really work. And we’ll never know unless each and every clinical trial that starts gets published when it ends.

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