May 18, 2024

Clinical trials to become more transparent

Glowing results from clinical trials may be due to successful experiments — or to the fact that none of the failures have been reported. And because pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in keeping bad news under wraps, little has been done to solve the problem. However, according to the Economist, drug companies are being pushed towards more openness by three recent events.

The first is a legal settlement by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a British drug company which was accused by the state of New York of deliberately suppressing clinical trials with negative results for its anti-depressant Paxil. GSK has agreed to post all summaries of clinical trials after 2000. The second is a defiant stand by more than a dozen top-flight medical journals declaring that they will not publish the results of trials which have not been registered in advance on an independent open database. And the third is a proposal in the US Senate to demand that drug companies post trial data on a government website.

The drug companies protest that early reporting will reduce incentives to develop new drugs and that their record of compliance with existing requirements is already “very good”. Their critics remain unconvinced. It appears that transparent reporting is on the way in drug trials.