Influential research misses financial conflicts
By Frederik Joelving
Mar 9, 2011
Scientists who review large sets of drug trials for medical journals often ignore financial conflicts that might warp the evidence, according to a study out Tuesday.
That's more than just an academic problem, experts say, because the reviews are considered just about the strongest evidence that medical science can muster.
"It influences how physicians make decisions and how guideline panels come up with their guidelines," said Brett D. Thombs, of McGill University and the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, whose findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Thombs' team found that of 29 reviews, or "meta-analyses," of earlier drug trials -- culled from top journals like JAMA and The Lancet -- only two reported who had funded the original trials included in the review.
And none of the reviews mentioned whether the authors reporting on those trials had been paid by drugmakers.
Such financial ties have been linked to research inflating the benefits of new drugs and downplaying the risks, said Thombs.
For instance, according to a 2008 report, only half the trials on antidepressants sent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approves new drugs, got a positive review by the agency.
By contrast, from the medical literature it appeared that more than 90 percent of the trials favored the drugs, because the majority of those that were unfavorable simply never got published...