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Pharmaceutical Companies Influence New Drug Research, Finds The Washington Post

By Rayna E. Kessler, Esquire

In a revealing article, The Washington Post recently found that pharmaceutical companies and their employees have increasingly exerted financial influence over drug research thus creating a potential for bias. Since the medical community relies upon such findings when evaluating patient safety risks, consumer safety may also be affected.

Specifically, the Washington Post article recounts the active role drug manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, played in the research findings of its now barely prescribed diabetes drug, Avandia. In 2006, the New England Journal of Medicine published a report describing a trial comparing three diabetes drugs and concluded that Avandia performed best. Few readers may have noticed that GlaxoSmithKline funded the trial and each of the eleven authors had received compensation from the company, including some that were stock-owning employees and paid consultants.

Given the authors’ financial connections, some medical experts believe that safety risks of Avandia “were overlooked,” including that Avandia can lead to significant increase in heart attack and heart-related diseases. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued major restrictions on its use in September 2010 and now estimates that the drug is associated with 83,000 heart attacks and deaths in the United States alone.

Such potential for bias is becoming more commonplace as the amount of government funding for new drugs has steadily decreased since the 1980s while pharmaceutical research funding continues to increase. For example, in 2011 the pharmaceutical industry spent $39 billion dollars on research in the United States in contrast to $31 billion dollars spent by the National Institute of Health, according to the article.

The Washington Post concluded that the influx of money during the drug research stage poses a risk to patients:

The billions that the drug companies invest in such experiments help fund the world’s quest for cures. But their aim is not just public health. That money is also part of a high-risk quest for profits, and over the past decade corporate interference has repeatedly muddled the nation’s drug science, sometimes with potentially lethal consequences . . .

When the company is footing the bill, the opportunities for bias are manifold: Company executives seeking to promote their drugs can design research that makes their products look better. They can select like-minded academics to perform the work. And they can run the statistics in ways that make their own drugs look better than they are. If troubling signs about a drug arise, they can steer clear of further exploration.

Cohen, Placitella and Roth agrees with these concerns and advocates for requiring pharmaceutical companies to publicly release all of the data from the drug trials for all FDA-approved medications and medical devices. Independent research and analysis should remain a cornerstone of American drug and device consumer safety.

Please read the full article here

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