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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 14796

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Rubenstein S.
How Many Negative Drug Studies Still Go Unpublished?
The Wall Street Journal Blog 2008 Dec 12

Full text:

Based on clinical trials, we know a fair amount about drugs on the market. But how much don’t we know?

It’s been a long-running controversy, and has come to a head in recent years after a string of drug-safety scandals. There are efforts to get drugmakers to disclose more trial results, such as a rule requiring them to register trials and provide results on But today’s WSJ Science Journal column presents some recent stats that bring the issue into sharp relief. Some highlights:

Last month, analysts led by an expert at the University of California in San Francisco checked 164 clinical trials testing 33 different drugs submitted for FDA approval from 2001 to 2002. One in four had yet to be published. Almost all of the unpublished findings made the drug in question look bad.
In September, some UCSF folks reviewed 900 FDA filings involving 90 new drugs. More than half of the clinical trials were still unpublished 5 years after the drugs had been approved. (More on UCSF’s work here.)
Earlier this year, doctors at the University of Washington reported in the journal Oncology that only one in five cancer clinical trials ever is disclosed.
Earlier this fall, researchers at the State University of New York reviewed 1,835 clinical research articles from four leading otolaryngology journals and reported that a third of them failed to mention any side effects at all.
For a taste of the controversies that come up, take a look at some of our past posts about a negative study of Pfizer’s Neurontin, unpublished negative studies of depression, and of course, the brouhaha early this year after Merck and Schering-Plough delay in releasing findings about cholesterol-drug Vytorin that turned out to be unflattering. Those results were published ultimately in the New England Journal of Medicine in April.


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Email a Friend influence multinational corporations effectively, the efforts of governments will have to be complemented by others, notably the many voluntary organisations that have shown they can effectively represent society’s public-health interests…
A small group known as Healthy Skepticism; formerly the Medical Lobby for Appropriate Marketing) has consistently and insistently drawn the attention of producers to promotional malpractice, calling for (and often securing) correction. These organisations [Healthy Skepticism, Médecins Sans Frontières and Health Action International] are small, but they are capable; they bear malice towards no one, and they are inscrutably honest. If industry is indeed persuaded to face up to its social responsibilities in the coming years it may well be because of these associations and others like them.
- Dukes MN. Accountability of the pharmaceutical industry. Lancet. 2002 Nov 23; 360(9346)1682-4.