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Is Scientific Research for Big Pharma Impartial and “Scientific”?

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The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) is a prestigious scientific publication, one that doubtless employs the peer editorial review process for articles it intends to publish. As a publication written and read by scientists, good scientific journals need to publish authoritative and credible results of experimentation which are supported by adherence to the scientific method, including impeccably documented testing and references. One thing a scientific journal might not publish, however, is the extent of any financial connections between the researchers and the organizations, such as the pharmaceutical companies, funding the experimentation described in their articles.

In one case, a research trial funded by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) was described in an article for publication written by 11 scientists, each of whom received money from GSK, according to a recent Washington Post article by Peter Whoriskey.

According to Whoriskey, it has "become commonplace" to publish research sponsored by large pharmaceutical companies. The practice reflects the industry’s expanding presence in research. Research funding by large pharmaceutical companies now exceeds funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), i.e., $39 billion last year versus $31 billion spent by NIH. (The Washington Post, 11/24/12)

Now comes the question of bias: If a drug company pays for experimentation, could the published results of new drug trials be dependable or skewed, one wonders? Pharmaceutical companies may be aiming to find cures and improve the public’s health, but Big Pharma is also seeking Big Profits. Has the drive for profits, as well as for the latest wonder drugs, affected good drug science?

Research supporting the efficacy of Vioxx, Avandia and Celebrex might have obscured the dangers of those drugs’ side effects, implies Whoriskey. And while big companies can re-work their exploration of new drugs, the little people involved in the clinical trials can not undo a bad drug’s effects. The NEJM had published the research into the arthritis drug, Vioxx, and that drug trial was "funded by Merck, and written by two company researchers." The controversy grows: Before the drug was removed from the marketplace, 27,000 heart attacks and cardiac-related deaths had occurred. (The Washington Post).

According to Whoriskey, more than half of the funds industry spends on scientific research today goes to profit-making organizations rather than to universities and other academic centers. Have economic pressures pushed the scientific community past the time when independent scientific research was independent? If so, perhaps more published scientific results need to be questioned and their funding sources published as well. The bottom line is that big money should not affect good science, research and development.

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  1. Alex says:
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    Of course the results will be skewed! This is why people are still taking risky medications, when they don’t even know there are safe and effective alternatives out there. (In the case of Celebrex, why haven’t they tried AminoActiv?)