The antidepressant medication Paxil was found to be not safe for teenagers in September, even though the pill’s original 2001 drug trial said otherwise. The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline funded the trial, and used their influence to suppress the negative results Paxil presented when used on teens.      


GlaxoSmithKline isn’t the only pharmaceutical company that has skewed the results of their drug trials. Those that have the job of looking over the results of clinical drug trials use a meta-analysis to see the combined statistics of all of the trials, rather than looking at each study. Because this is the case, it’s harder to see inconsistencies or problems with certain studies, since they aren’t being looked at individually.


According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, a third of the 185 meta-analyses reviewed were written by pharmaceutical industry employees, which presents a clear bias. Many independent researchers that worked on drug studies were also found to have a conflict of interest, even though they weren’t employed by a pharmaceutical company. In 53 meta-analyses that had an author who wasn’t a pharmaceutical employee, 25 percent had conflicts of interest that weren’t reported at the time the studies were done.     


“We knew that the industry would fund studies to promote its products, but it’s very different to fund meta-analyses,” which “have traditionally been a bulwark of evidence-based medicine,” said John Ioannidis, the study’s co-author.


GSK building


Drug companies like GlaxoSmithKline are putting people’s health at risk when they cover up the negative effects of their medication so that they can market their pills to a larger audience. It’s difficult to prevent these companies from doing so, since they are legally allowed to fund meta-analyses. Ioannidis says that the pharmaceutical industry should be allowed to fund research to an extent, but not during the phase that decides whether patients should “take this drug or not.”       


Unless a law is put into place that prevents pharmaceutical companies from funding research that decides of a drug is safe, it’s unlikely that anything will change. These companies have a lot to gain by tipping the results of the studies in their favor. To enact change throughout the industry, University of Oxford psychiatry professor Andrea Cipriani says, “we need to highlight that these meta-analyses are more of a marketing tool than a science.”  


Should it be against the law for pharmaceutical companies to fund research that decides if a drug is safe? With all of the conflicts of interests in place, how can we be sure a drug is safe for use? Leave a comment or talk to me on Twitter @Karbowski_Devon.