As The FTC Goes After Bloggers, Doctors Making Millions Promoting Drugs With Little Oversight

from the feeling-healthy-yet? dept

Clay Shirky points us to a column from a few months back by Marcia Angell, which explains why clinical research on drugs isn't even remotely trustworthy, as it all-too-often seems to involve doctors who have serious conflicts:
Or consider Dr. Alan F. Schatzberg, chair of Stanford's psychiatry department and president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association. Senator Grassley found that Schatzberg controlled more than $6 million worth of stock in Corcept Therapeutics, a company he cofounded that is testing mifepristone--the abortion drug otherwise known as RU-486--as a treatment for psychotic depression. At the same time, Schatzberg was the principal investigator on a National Institute of Mental Health grant that included research on mifepristone for this use and he was coauthor of three papers on the subject.
Angell notes that this is pretty common:
Indeed, most doctors take money or gifts from drug companies in one way or another. Many are paid consultants, speakers at company-sponsored meetings, ghost-authors of papers written by drug companies or their agents, and ostensible "researchers" whose contribution often consists merely of putting their patients on a drug and transmitting some token information to the company.
And as the relationship between doctors and pharma has gotten deeper and deeper, it means that the results of those all important "clinical trials" -- which the pharma supporters always insist are so important -- are highly suspect:
Because drug companies insist as a condition of providing funding that they be intimately involved in all aspects of the research they sponsor, they can easily introduce bias in order to make their drugs look better and safer than they are. Before the 1980s, they generally gave faculty investigators total responsibility for the conduct of the work, but now company employees or their agents often design the studies, perform the analysis, write the papers, and decide whether and in what form to publish the results. Sometimes the medical faculty who serve as investigators are little more than hired hands, supplying patients and collecting data according to instructions from the company.

In view of this control and the conflicts of interest that permeate the enterprise, it is not surprising that industry-sponsored trials published in medical journals consistently favor sponsors' drugs--largely because negative results are not published, positive results are repeatedly published in slightly different forms, and a positive spin is put on even negative results. A review of seventy-four clinical trials of antidepressants, for example, found that thirty-seven of thirty-eight positive studies were published. But of the thirty-six negative studies, thirty-three were either not published or published in a form that conveyed a positive outcome. It is not unusual for a published paper to shift the focus from the drug's intended effect to a secondary effect that seems more favorable.
And yet the FTC is more worried about a mommy blogger recommending a book that a publisher sent her for free?
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Filed Under: conflicts, doctors, drugs, fda, ftc


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  1. icon
    Thomas O'Toole (profile), 21 Oct 2009 @ 9:56am

    FDA looking at drug advertising issues with social media

    Mike, this doesn't really speak to concerns about capture, but the FDA is considering amending its drug disclosure rules as they pertain to social media. Here is a link to the Federal Register announcement. The agency will hold public hearings in Wash DC next month, Nov. 12-13.

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