Hard cases make bad medicine

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Ebola outbreak and the ethics of using drugs untested on humans to combat Ebola. Understandably, the pressure to use untested drugs is always at its highest in an outbreak of disease, as we saw during the swine flu epidemic of 2009.

In that case, governments across the world spent millions on stockpiling and prescribing Tamiflu, an anti-viral drug that had previously been licensed for treatment of flu. Thousands of people took the drug. Tamiflu wasn’t untested – there have been many trials. So it’s all the more shocking that the doctors expected to prescribe the drug and the patients expected to take it don’t actually know how well it works.

I’ve written before about the AllTrials campaign, and the struggle of the Cochrane Collaboration to get drug manufacturer Roche to release full data from their trials of Tamiflu. Even the drug regulators seem not to have had access to all the data. For anyone coming new to the issue, AllTrials have issued a video, presented by Dr Ben Goldacre, which sets out the situation. As he says, Roche have done nothing illegal in withholding the information. So do we need a change in the law, just to ensure researchers, doctors and patients can be sure the drugs they are taking work?

If you haven’t already done so, please do sign up to the AllTrials initiative and support the campaign.

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