A campaign launched this week that is important for everyone. The All Trials campaign, run by the organisation Sense About Science with support from the BMJ and other luminaries, demands that all medical trials should be registered, and that all trials should report their results.
It may not sound that exciting – indeed, you might be surprised to know it’s not already the case. The Times had a good editorial explaining why it was necessary. At the BMJ, editor Fiona Godlee was joined by evidence-based-medicine pioneers Iain Chalmers and Paul Glaziou in an editorial highlighting the dangers of the current system. Bad Science and Bad Pharma writer Ben Goldacre has long championed the cause.
But in case you’re defeated by pay walls or broken links, here’s the gist of the argument. If you’re a drug company and you have a new drug under development, you need to test it in big, high quality randomised controlled trials. These are the trials most likely to give you a true result, where you can see if your drug works better than placebo, or than the established, older treatment for a medical condition.
Some studies are likely, by play of chance, to be more favourable than others. If you only publish the favourable trials, it looks like your drug works better than it does. If many trials are done over time, and all the negative trials (the ones which showed it didn’t work any better than placebo) are quietly shoved into a bottom drawer, the evidence base becomes distorted.
That matters to everyone – patients taking the drug, doctors prescribing it, researchers working on other drugs that might just be better, taxpayers funding the NHS (see the amount the UK government spent on Tamiflu, based on incomplete data). It’s also a betrayal of the people who took part in the trial, who thought they were doing so to advance medical knowledge, not safeguard the drug company’s bottom line.
Convinced? Good. Sign here, please: http://www.alltrials.net/