One of the biggest problems in medical research today is that we don’t have complete access to the clinical trials that a company did when testing their new products. While this may seem to be an issue of privacy (for the company), it’s more correctly viewed as a public health issue. Why? Because lies and misrepresentations matter.
Let’s say that I have a new pharmaceutical product that I wish to bring to market. It gets through basic lab studies fine, it tests ok on animals, and now it’s time to test on people. I set up several large-scale trials (say 1000 people per trial), double-blinded such that each trial is split into two groups, and the control group is given an existing known-to-be-working medicine. I’ll discuss the reasons for that a little later in this article.
Let’s say that we run 10 trials. In 5 of the trials, my new medicine significantly underperforms against the known-to-be-working medicine. In 3 of the trials, it’s about the same, and in the final two it outperforms the known-to-be-working medicine. As a pharmaceutical company, I release the results of only the 2 best trials and claim that my new pharmaceutical product outperforms the current market leader. The regulating body in my country approves my product, and I pull in lots of cash. Even if I released the top 5 studies, I could still claim that my product performs “as well as or better than the current market leader”. Everyone’s a winner, right?
All drugs have side-effects. All medical interventions have costs associated with them. The state must invest money in investigating each new medical intervention, and approving them. In countries with socialised medicine, the state actively invests taxes in subsidising the financial costs of these products to the public. Moreover, doctors will make recommendations based on the recommendations of the governing health bodies such that a particular medical intervention may become the standard intervention across a nation, or possibly across the world. Based on lies.
People need to be able to accurately assess the pros and cons of the medical interventions they are presented with. What are the side effects of this new medical intervention? Are the side effects more or less extreme than the other interventions? People are more likely to accept extreme side effects if the benefits are significant. But if the benefits have been misrepresented then sick people are choosing the *more extreme* side effects for no additional gain.
This is the current culture of pharmaceutical companies, and companies that provide other medical interventions: the truth is obscured by their failure to release all of their trial data.
What about that “known-to-be-working medicine” I mentioned above? It, too, is a product of the current culture. It’s quite possible that some of the ‘standard interventions’ we use now are less effective than we have been led to believe.
We need the full data released so that better decisions can be made. And there is a petition going around that pushes for exactly this: the Alltrials petition. If you care about medicine, science, ethics, public policy, health, philosophy of science and/or economics, this is something that you should get behind.
It takes 30 seconds to fill out, tops. Take the time.