Financial ties between researchers, drug companies taint clinical data

Much of the so-called clinical data gathered to approve new prescription drugs or used to back marketing claims a company wishes to make about its products is likely soiled by financial ties between the person who wrote the research and the companies using the research to their gain.

According to a Washington Post investigation, the financial influence of deep-pocketed pharmaceutical companies has extended to the people paid to conduct clinical, supposedly unbiased reviews of drugs. These studies are used by health regulators to determine their risks and benefits and whether they should be approved for sale, and by doctors who frequently consult new data to see who may be at risk of a previously unknown side effect.

Many times nowadays, the company with the new drug is the one paying to have the research performed. And as the rate of dangerous side effects and drug-related injuries and deaths increases and more companies are accused of hiding data that showed a specific pharmaceutical caused a dangerous side effect, it lends to the belief that that drug companies are also peddling influence with the money they pay for this research.

In one specific case, that of the once-popular type 2 diabetes drug Avandia, one single company was able to influence 11 researchers with cash and other endowments to produce research that showed the drug was more effective in regulating blood glucose levels than other popular drug treatments. The validity of the research seemed convincing enough that the respected medical journal New England Journal of Medicine published a 17-page report on the study.

The study was reviewing data from an ongoing clinical trial of Avandia and based on the results at that point, the study found that Avandia was more effective than other drug treatments but those researchers apparently missed data – data they probably should have noticed – that pointed to the drug’s Achilles heel, its link to heart attack and death.

Instead of reporting on this trend in the trial of Avandia and including that in the study that GlaxoSmithKline eventually used to market the drug to become of the most widely-prescribed in the U.S. at one point, the study was published without it and Avandia became part of millions of Americans’ drug diet. The result was at least 83,000 heart attacks and deaths, many of which likely could have been avoided if that study had pointed out this one glaring side effect of the drug.

Speculation exists that the 11 people paid to conduct that research were all paid and highly influenced by GSK to produce evidence that showed Avandia was simply a more effective diabetes drug than others. According to the Post report, “Four were employees and held company stock. The other seven were academic experts who had received grants or consultant fees from the firm.”

In the wake of the widespread complications blamed on Avandia, the drug was all but removed from the U.S. and many foreign markets.

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