19 April 2006

Research funding shock

In many studies comparing antipsychotic drugs, the findings favour drugs made by companies funding the studies, according to a report in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

In many studies comparing antipsychotic drugs, the findings favour drugs made by companies funding the studies, according to a report in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

US researchers recently analysed every publicly available pharmaceutical industry-funded study, comparing five new antipsychotic drugs against one another. They found that nine in 10 of the studies concluded that the superior drug was the one made by the firm funding the study.

"On the basis of these contrasting findings in head-to-head trials, it appears that whichever company sponsors the trial produces the better antipsychotic drug," author and study leader Dr John Davis wrote.

These studies are the main source of information used by US doctors to prescribe $10 billion worth of antipsychotic drugs each year.

Focusing on the advantages
But Prof Dan Stein, Head of the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town, says that we shouldn't just focus on the negative and that "drug trials are crucial for the progress of medicine".

"There are good things and bad things about the drug industry. It's easy to focus on the disadvantages. From a South African perspective, I feel we don't often focus enough on the positive," Stein says.

He outlines the following advantages:
1.) Studies done in South Africa lead to the availability of drugs for important indications, e.g. fluoxetine for obsessive-compulsive disorder. When fluoxetine was first made available, it was not available as a generic. But now, some years later, the generic is available here.
2.) Participation in studies keeps our clinicians abreast of recent developments. Drug trials teach them how to use new rating scales and provide them with experience in using new drugs. By participating, our clinicians become part of the world of medical research, which primarily takes place in developed countries.
3.) Participation in trials leads to direct foreign investment in South Africa. Some people feel that drug trials means using our population as guinea pigs. But Stein feels this is wrong for many reasons, not the least being that it is often helpful to patients to participate in drug trials.

Issue of ghost writers
In the above-mentioned American Journal of Psychiatry report, it is also estimated that about 90 percent of pharmaceutical industry-sponsored studies that list a well-known academic as the lead researcher are actually conducted by a drug company, which later recruits a university researcher to be the "author".

As most authors of pivotal clinical trials are based in the USA or the UK, Stein feels that he cannot comment on the issue of ghost writers in these countries. – (Health24, HealthDayNews)


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