The pharmaceutical companies have a major influence over the studies they pay for

Monday, October 8, 2018

An investigation of industry-sponsored medical studies shows that pharmaceutical companies had an impact on all parts of the research.

Much medical research takes place in purely academic environments, ie at universities or other independent research institutions.

But when promising drugs are being developed into finished vaccines or medications and tested on humans, it is almost always a drug company that is behind.

Now the industry and independent researchers are involved: The pharmaceutical company finances the study and supplies the medicine, while physicians and researchers carry out research on their patients. This is a collaboration that both serve.

Obtains credibility from independent researchers

Hospitals gain increased competence, prestige, free access to new and better medicines, greater opportunity to follow up patients and funds for more employees.

Industry receives access to hospitals ‘patients and physicians’ treatment skills. And not least, to the credibility of independent researchers. It will be a guarantee that the research results are reliable and not controlled by industry’s financial interests.

But now a new survey suggests that this warranty is less worthwhile than we have assumed.

The results showed that industry was often deeply involved in all parts of the studies. In many cases, there were researchers from the pharmaceutical companies who analyzed the data alone. They also often wrote the research articles without their names appearing in the authors lists.

The drug companies had great influence

It is Kristine Rasmussen at the Nordic Cochrane Center at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen and her colleagues who have done the survey. They took care of the 200 latest industry-financed studies of medicines, vaccines and medical equipment, published in seven highly prestigious medical journals.

Rasmussen and co. also sent a questionnaire to the main authors of the 200 studies.

The results showed that employees from pharmaceutical companies were writing 87 percent of the articles. And in 92 percent of the cases, the industrial partner had an influence on the design of the study. In many cases, this study design may have a lot to say for what results the survey can provide.

Only four percent of the studies were completely independent, ie completely planned, performed and reported by researchers from academic institutions.

When it came to analyzing the data, industry workers were included in 73 percent of the studies, while independent researchers only participated in the analyzes in 40 percent of the cases.

This means that employees in the pharmaceutical companies not only had an influence on how the data from the study were interpreted. In many cases they had the full control. But the information in the articles about who stood for the analyzes was often ambiguous.

This result is consistent with the conclusions of previous studies.

It was also often unclear whether the independent researchers themselves had access to the data. This is consistent with previous research, writes Rasmussen and colleagues. A study from 2012 showed that industry partners often had control of the data.

Research.no also wrote about similar issues. A survey we conducted in 2017 showed that researchers often have no influence on what happens to the data from studies in Norwegian patients.

The questionnaire to Rasmussen and colleagues shows that most academics looked at the cooperation with industry as useful.

However, some reported about problems, for example because the drug company delayed the publication of the results, or that the two parties disagreed as to how the study should be designed or reported.

In a research.no research, 2015 showed that Norwegian researchers have also experienced such episodes.

– Should decline cooperation

In a comment about the research, Rasmussen writes that she and colleagues started the survey because they knew about researchers who had experienced their academic freedom limited by the industry partner.

And because they knew about researchers who were only concerned about the benefits they could derive from an industrial partnership.

Thus it was interesting to find out how widespread this was. The results of industry-sponsored clinical trials are important. They have a lot to say when professionals and health authorities decide what kind of treatment patients will receive.

Good decisions depend on the fact that the clinical studies that are based are reliable and safeguard the patient’s interests, for commercial reasons, writes Rasmussen, and strikes a blow for more independence in future studies.

– The academic environment should refuse cooperation when the industry requires control over design, implementation, data, statistical analysis or reporting.

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