Study: distorted results by the pharmaceutical industry

Investigation: Industry-funded studies produce distorted results

The pharmaceutical industry is constantly developing new drugs, diagnostic methods and therapies. To guarantee sales, the drug must also deliver what it promises. There are clear regulations that determine whether a drug is approved by government agencies or not. One of them is scientific evidence and medical benefits. In order to provide this evidence, evidence-based studies must be submitted. These are in turn largely financed by the pharmaceutical companies themselves. A scientific evaluation of the “Cochrance Collaboration” has now shown that the industrial financing of the studies leads to a visible distortion of the study results. Because the results of these studies are significantly more positive than non-funded research.

New clinical studies are published almost every week. The majority of the studies are concerned with confirming the effectiveness of certain drugs. The studies are of great importance. The results determine which medicines doctors prescribe, which funds are financed by health insurance companies and whether a medication is even approved by the regulatory authorities on the medication market. Last but not least, patients must also be able to rely on the effectiveness of the therapy administered. It is assumed that the studies are carried out by research teams according to closely-knit scientific guidelines and that the results are published objectively by the client without prior guidelines. However, as a team of scientists from the “Cochrane Collaboration” has now determined, a number of studies seem almost unbelievable, since in direct comparison it is noticeable that studies financed by industry do much better than others that are not financed. This raises numerous questions about the actual benefits.

Conclusions and results are shown in a more positive comparison. The investigation showed that studies on medicinal products and other medical products that are financed by the pharmaceutical industry or manufacturers of medical devices convey a much more positive result picture than other university studies without the influence of the pharmaceutical companies. "It was noticed that the conclusions more rarely corresponded to the actual findings," as the researchers of the non-profit initiative wrote in the science magazine "Cochrane Library".

Study sponsorship by pharmaceutical companies Clinical research is increasingly sponsored by companies. Either all or part of the student work is financed by the corporations. In many cases, the studies are carried out by the manufacturer himself or an external institute is commissioned with the research work. This often leads to companies being able to present their products in a better light, for example by holding back negative reports and only publishing supposedly positive results in specialist magazines. That is a very common reality. "Studies on drugs from the Cochrane Collaboration have shown this several times," emphasize the scientists. The organization's independent scientists have now been able to demonstrate this effect for medical products and medicines.

"The primary goal of the review was to find out whether the published results and general conclusions of the industry-sponsored drugs and devices tend to favor the sponsors' perspective." The experts compared the sources of the groups and the findings of other studies on the same topics. "The second goal was to find out whether the methods of such industry-funded studies increase the risk of statistical bias." Again, the different sources were compared. “We published a comprehensive search in all relevant documents before September 2010. These contain 48 specialist reports, ”the researchers write in their freely accessible report.

48 medicines and medical products compared For the analysis, the scientists and physicians led by Andreas Lundh from the Cochrane Center in Copenhagen examined 48 medical devices and medicines. These included, for example, heart remedies or medicines for the relief of psychotic illnesses. It was shown for all medical devices that the studies financed by the manufacturers reported "fewer side effects and more positive effects" than other research independent of the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, the findings and the results of studies funded by the pharmaceutical industry that were published afterwards were less in agreement. "Our research results suggest that industry-funded drug or medical device studies are more likely to favor sponsor products than non-industry studies," said Lundh. The findings would clearly show that the demands for better access to scientific results, methodologies and raw data are of high value. So far, however, the pharmaceutical companies have blocked this in whole or in part.

State guidelines do not consider industry sponsorship "The medical guidelines and evaluations do not always consider the possible influence of the industry," the authors criticize. One solution could be that the funding for the studies is noted in the original publications. This must also be taken into account for later reports. "If we agree that industrial finance is an important factor for bias, then we have to think about new methods," warns senior author Lisa Bero of the University of California at San Francisco. “How do we report on industrial distortion, how do we evaluate it and how do we deal with it when we assess the effectiveness of medicines and aids?” This question arises all the more after the results.

The non-profit organization is fundamentally not critical of conventional medicine. The research initiative bears the name of the English epidemiological researcher Sir Achibald Leman Cochrane, who is considered one of the founders of evidence-based medicine. The work of the Cochrane Collaboration is considered very detailed and highly recognized in the research world. The scientists have set themselves the task of independently researching the benefits and possible harms of therapies and drugs. In the meantime, they are working at 13 research institutions worldwide and are evaluating various student research projects and results. The most important goal is to create a picture that is as objective as possible without distortion in medical questions. External influence by pharmaceutical companies is strictly rejected. (sb)

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