Aletho News


Why Opening Up Clinical Trials Data Is Good For Pharma Companies Too

By Glyn Moody | Techdirt | November 5, 2013

Earlier this year we wrote about how AbbVie, the pharma company spun out of Abbott Laboratories, had gone to court to stop the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from releasing clinical trials information about one of its drugs. Despite what AbbVie claimed, this was not commercially sensitive in any way, but simply basic data about safety and efficacy.

It’s often overlooked that this data is mostly obtained by testing new drugs on volunteer members of the public who take the medicines in order to establish their safety. By definition, these volunteers are putting themselves at risk. They selflessly offer to do that in order to advance medicine and confer benefits on society as a whole. That means the clinical data obtained from such tests belongs to the public that made them possible, at least from a moral viewpoint.

If a company seeks to prevent the free dissemination of that safety data, as AbbVie is doing in Europe, it is breaking the implicit compact it made with the people who agreed to try out its drugs. Those invited to take part in future trials of AbbVie’s drugs might then begin to ask why they should endanger their health and even lives purely to boost one company’s profits.

But even if AbbVie is resistant to the argument that it has a moral obligation to allow the clinical trials data to be released, and is not concerned that the public might think that it has something to hide, perhaps it will be won over by a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, written by four people from the EMA. This puts forward a quite different argument, that releasing test data will directly benefit pharma companies themselves, and offers a number of reasons why.

First, access to the full data sets of completed studies will lead to improvements in the design and analysis of subsequent trials.

Basically, the more information that drug companies have about what works and what doesn’t, the better they can design their future tests.

Second, lessons from past trials about the heterogeneity of treatment effects not only will streamline drug development but also may enhance a drug’s value in the marketplace. Identification of a population with high unmet need in which a new treatment may be more cost-effective than other available treatments can aid sponsors during reimbursement negotiations.

Again, the more information companies have about how different groups of patients responded to a drug, the easier it will be to spot particular sub-groups in the population who derive particular benefit. Selling products for that sub-group will be both easier, more profitable and more ethical than simply trying to sell to everybody, since the drug may be ineffective or even inappropriate for many of the general population.

Third, since several possible treatments for one medical condition are often available, comparative-effectiveness information is important to patients, prescribers, and sponsors seeking to position their products.

For a given condition, there may be several possible treatments. Making clinical test data available allows them to be compared, and the best one selected for future drug development, instead of investing huge sums in what may well be a relatively ineffective approach.

Finally, one of the inherent inefficiencies of data secrecy is the repetition of trials and projects that are doomed from the outset; drug developers may continue to pursue a given target even though clinical trials conducted by others have demonstrated the effort’s futility.

In many ways this is the most important reason. If the results of clinical trials are kept secret, companies run the risk of repeating the mistakes already made by others. Not only is that a waste of time and money that could be better spent on more fruitful avenues, it is putting test subjects at risk unnecessarily. As the NEJM points out:

In at least one documented case, the availability of data from completed trials could have spared trial subjects a potential health risk and saved millions of research dollars.

The article concludes:

A managed-release environment that allows sharing of patient-level data while ensuring patient privacy would create a level playing field for all stakeholders. What is sometimes labeled as “free riding” may ultimately pay dividends for innovative companies and for public health. It is ironic that the organizations that most resist wider access to data are the ones that stand to benefit so much from greater transparency.

In fact, this is no mere theoretical possibility. We know this approach works, because it is precisely what we see in the field of open source. Sharing the code freely creates a level playing-field that allows companies to innovate faster because they can build on the work of others. The rise of a multi-billion dollar software industry based around such sharing, and the unprecedented rate of innovation this drives, are yet more reasons that companies like AbbVie should be striving to promote, not prevent, the release and dissemination of clinical trials information as open data.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter

November 5, 2013 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Comments Off on Why Opening Up Clinical Trials Data Is Good For Pharma Companies Too

Three-Quarters of Members of “Expert” Medical Guideline Panels Have Ties to Drug Industry

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | August 17, 2013

The vast majority of medical experts in the U.S. who help formulate disease and diagnostic guidelines are taking money from the pharmaceutical industry, according to a new study.

The research published in the journal PLoS Medicine found that 75% of panelists who propose changes in disease definitions and diagnostic criteria had been paid by drug companies either as consultants, advisers or speakers.

Among those serving as chairs of these panels, 12 out of 14 were financially connected to the drug industry.

“Companies with financial relationships with the greatest proportion of panel members were marketing or developing drugs for the same conditions about which those members were making critical judgements,” Ray Moynihan, of Bond University in Robina, Australia, and colleagues wrote.

Examples cited by the researchers included GlaxoSmithKline, which had paid 20 of the 24 members of a 2009 task force that developed new definitions regarding asthma. It just so happens that the company sells the billion-dollar Advair, used to help asthma patients.

Also, Biogen, maker of the multiple sclerosis drug interferon beta-1a (Avonex), had ties to 13 of the 18 participants on a 2010 MS panel that expanded the definition to simplify diagnosis, the study revealed.

To Learn More:

Expanding Disease Definitions in Guidelines and Expert Panel Ties to Industry: A Cross-sectional Study of Common Conditions in the United States (by Raymond N. Moynihan, Georga P. E. Cooke, Jenny A. Doust, Lisa Bero, Suzanne Hill and Paul P. Glasziou, PLoS Medicine)

Pharma Ties Common on Guideline Panels (by David Pittman, MedPage Today)

Experts Related to Drug Makers Promote Narcotics for Seniors in Pain (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Doctors who Earn Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars Speaking for Drug Companies (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Science and Pseudo-Science | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Three-Quarters of Members of “Expert” Medical Guideline Panels Have Ties to Drug Industry

As “Blockbuster Drug” Bubble Bursts, Big Pharma Takes Jobs Overseas

By Martha Rosenberg | Dissident Voice | March 12th, 2012

It is no consolation to the roughly one out of 600 families who lost their homes in the U.S. but Wall Street made a lot of money slicing and dicing mortgages it knew would implode, while hiding risks. Financial giants, like AIG, are still buzzing along and neither penalties or new laws will prevent a future crash, say financial analysts, because the risky business models have not really changed.

A similar Big Pharma bubble, leavened with risky blockbuster drugs that also blew up, is now bursting. Like Wall Street’s bundled high risk loans, the “tide” created by Big Pharma’s high risk drugs raised many ships during the 2000s from advertising, public relations and medical communication agencies to TV and radio stations, medical journals and doctor/pitchmen who shoveled in its marketing budgets. But now the joy ride is over and Pharma is shedding jobs and settling billions in claims without changing its risky business model, like Wall Street.

In Europe, governments are no longer willing to pay the high prices for drugs that they once did say published reports and some countries are drafting laws making drug makers “prove their drugs are effective or risk having them dropped from the coverage list, or covered at a lower rate.” Imagine!

Germany has already saved 1.9 billion euros in 2011 by refusing to pay higher prices for drugs unless they are clearly superior to existing medicines, and Pharma worries that other countries will also get tough and want scientific proof for drug effectiveness instead of marketing and spin. In the U.S. and elsewhere, a drug only needs to be superior to no drug (placebo) to be approved by regulators — yet “new” is conveyed as “better than any drug to date” in advertising.  Some clinicians say Haldol, an inexpensive antipsychotic, and lithium, a similar affordable bipolar drug are better than blockbuster antipyschotics and bipolar drugs that created Pharma’s 2000 bubble.

Before the Vioxx scandal and major settlements over blockbuster drugs like Zyprexa, Bextra, Celebrex, Geodon and Seroquel, being a Pharma rep was probably the next best thing to working on Wall Street. Direct-to-consumer advertising did your pre-sell for you, and all you had to do was show up with your snappy Vytorin tote bag and samples case. Some Pharma reps had their own reception room with ice water, swivel chairs, and laptop ports at medical offices, and most waltzed in to see the doctor right in front of waiting and sick patients. (It didn’t hurt that reps were usually “hotties,” both men or women).

But, by 2011, the bloom had fallen off Pharma reps’ roses. The number of prescribers willing to see most reps fell almost 20 percent, the number refusing to see all reps increased by half, and eight million sales calls were “nearly impossible to complete,” reported ZS Associates. Blockbuster drugs that were found to be unsafe after their big sales push or even withdrawn altogether, did not help the reps’ credibility with doctors. After the aggressively marketed hormone therapy was linked to high incidences of cancer, stroke and heart attack, Wyeth (now Pfizer) announced it was eliminating 1,200 jobs and closing its Rouses Point, New York plant where Prempro products were manufactured.

As government and private insurers increasingly say, “You want us to cover what?” about expensive, dangerous drugs that are not even proven effective, Pharma bubble jobs are evaporating. Almost 20,000 jobs have vanished at AstraZeneca, Novartis and Pfizer in the last 12 months alone. (AstraZeneca scrapped 21,600 more since 2007). Meanwhile, Pharma is outsourcing more of its operations to poor countries.

Workers and people willing to be trial subjects are both a bargain in poor countries where many can’t understand drug risks or refuse them if they did (and most can’t afford the very drugs they help sell). In January the Argentinian Federation of Health Professionals accused drug maker GlaxoSmithKline of misleading participants and pressuring poor families into joining a trial for the Synflorix vaccine, which the company says protects against bacterial pneumonia and meningitis, reported CNN. In 2010, 10 deaths occurred during Pfizer and AstraZeneca drug trials at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre which was ironically built for survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, reports MSNBC. 3,878 workers perished in Bhopal when chemicals leaked at a Union Carbide pesticide plant.

Outsourcing drug manufacturing to cheap venues also contributes to Pharma’s cascade of “quality control” problems in which drugs are mislabeled, contaminated or otherwise made dangerous. It is speculated that Johnson & Johnson’s CEO William Weldon “was pushed to retire because of all of the quality issues at McNeil as well as with the company’s hip implant products, which have resulted in a raft of litigation,” reports FiercePharma.

Like the Wall Street bubble, the Pharma bubble was built on products that industry, but not the public, knew were risky, sold for quick profits. Now regulators are examining some of these “assets” more closely and with disturbing findings. The FDA now warns that bestselling statin drugs like Lipitor and Crestor, even approved for children, are linked to memory loss and diabetes associated with. The equally well selling proton pump inhibitors like Nexium and Prilosec for acid reflux disease (GERD) are now believed to increase the risk of bone fractures by 30 percent.

In March, the FDA even rejected a Merck drug that combines the active drug in Lipitor with the active drug in Zetia and Vytorin, a drug that Forbes calls Son of Vytorin. Vytorin (the father) was advertised to treat both food and family “sources of cholesterol” until results from a study that Merck and Schering-Plough appeared to withhold from regulators showed the drug had no effect on the buildup of plaque in the arteries (believed to correlate with heart attack and stroke). There was such a gap between marketing and science, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked the General Accounting Office to investigate why the FDA was approving “drugs that appear to have little to no effect in protecting lives and increasing health.”

Yet even as clouds develop over Pharma’s top-selling drugs, some say the FDA is too hard on new drugs, not too easy. “The FDA is impeding useful innovations in the U.S.,” says former FDA deputy commissioner Scott Gottlieb in the a Wall Street Journal oped and lagging behind other countries. Former FDA commissioner Andrew Von Eschenbach, also writing in the WSJ, agrees. The FDA should improve U.S. drug competitiveness by allowing drugs “to be approved based on safety, with efficacy to be proven in later trials,” while the public is already taking the drugs. Isn’t that what’s happening now?


Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her first book, titled Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health, will be published in April 2012 by Amherst, New York-based Prometheus Books. She can be reached at:

March 12, 2012 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics, Science and Pseudo-Science | , , , , | Comments Off on As “Blockbuster Drug” Bubble Bursts, Big Pharma Takes Jobs Overseas