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Shock BMJ headline

January 8, 2012

Privately funded research better reported than publicly funded

Relax. It’s not happened. The British Medical Journal is bashing the pharmaceutical industry as hard as ever; this week insinuating that even collaborating with the NHS is akin to bribery.  But the same issue also included a series of papers on missing data from drug trials. i.e. results not reported because they, allegedly, failed to support the interests of the triallists. Everyone agrees this is a problem. Listening to the BMJ editor on the Radio 4 Today programme you’d think it mainly affected the private pharmaceutical sector – to be fair partly the fault of the BBC interviewer.

Two papers mention the source of funding for these troublesome studies. Ross et al reported less than half of trials funded by the US National Institutes of Health, i.e. publicly funded ones, got published at all.

Prayle et al. inspected the database, Clinicaltrials.gov.  Instead of publication in general, they measured compliance with a government regulation that summary results should be published on the website.  40% of industry funded trials but only 9% of publicly funded ones had done so!

This is not an original finding.  Direct comparisons of public and privately-funded research often show the latter is better quality. Here’s another study Jones et al.  But don’t wait for the BMJ headline, or the Today programme to tell you.

Jim Thornton.

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