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
    Brooks (profile), 21 Oct 2009 @ 12:46pm

    Ugh, redux

    Oh, come on, Mike, please. Last time I pointed out your highly emotional take the FTC blogger regulations, you 1) denied that the regulations apply to Techdirt, and then 2) posted some pretty amusing snark later in the day about how they apply to Techdirt (the whole "got free cable service due to technical glitch a few years ago" thing).

    Do you think it's possible that the FTC, as a fairly large organization, has the resources to look at both blogs and medical studies? Do you think, maybe, it would be entirely different people in the FTC for the two areas?

    It's a complete straw man, and really beneath you, to handwave about how the FTC's (admittedly misguided) blogging regulations are somehow at the expense of properly regulating medical studies and advertising.

    I promise you, at no time did someone at the FTC sit down and say "so, we have to choose between the advertorial issue in blogging and the corruption in medical studies... which will it be?" You're like the guy who complains about getting a speeding ticket when people can get away with crap like Enron. It's not a zero sum resource allocation problem, and each case or action should stand on its own merits, or lack thereof.

    You're hurting Techdirt with this continuing highly emotional and poorly reasoned hyperventilating about the FTC's (stupid, poorly designed) blogging regulations. Please focus on stuff you can be relatively even-handed and intellectually honest about -- you do such fantastic work when you have that distance.

    Sorry to be a downer and a critic; I love Techdirt and the bulk of your work. But this is really getting ridiculous. Though I guess the RIAA guys are probably happy about the new crusade.

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