VSL:SCIENCE // Fact-checking big pharma

We’ve all suspected that Big Pharma cherry-picks the studies it publishes and publicizes. Now a paper by a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, tells us just how widespread and insidious the practice is.

To win FDA approval for a new medication, pharmaceutical companies must prove that their drug works better than a placebo. And so, they conduct randomized efficacy trials in which patients and doctors alike are “blind.” Such studies can be effective, but the industry routinely suppresses unflattering results and masks important information — and is particularly selective about which trials it actually publishes in journals.

The researchers studied 168 efficacy trials, and they found that drug companies failed to publish results on 36 (or 22 percent) of them and omitted important data from many others. Not surprisingly, “the vast majority” of omissions and discrepancies just happened to favor the drugs under review. According to Journal of the American Medical Association deputy editor Drummond Rennie, such selective reporting of results “is not science” — it’s “marketing.”

This post is from Observer Short List—an email of three favorite things from people you want to know. Sign up to receive OSL here. VSL:SCIENCE // Fact-checking big pharma