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The cost of clinical trial data bias/loss, FDA’s new job and the need for bold leadership.

Posted: September 30, 2012 at 3:46 pm


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The scandal of clinical trial data loss is eroding the fundamentals of evidence-based research and clinical medicine.


Before you right this post off as the stuff of conspiracy theories, fear-mongering, and 'alternative world views' consider that this view is shared by the likes of the FDA, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, the Cochrane Collaboration, and researchers at institutions like Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.


Here's the underlying premise as succinctly described by author Ben Goldacre:

"Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer.

When trials throw up results that companies don't like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug's true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug's life, and even then they don't give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion."

Authors M. Todwin and J. Abramson summarize it thusly:

"Trials with positive results generally are published more frequently than studies that conclude that a new drug poses greater risks or is no more effective than standard therapy or a placebo. Furthermore, some articles may distort trial findings by omitting important data or by modifying prespecified outcome measures. Lack of access to detailed information about clinical trials can undermine the integrity of medical knowledge."

Here is a great list of very recent resources that may convince you of the merits of this concern:

Yesterday, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services announced (in an FR notice) that the FDA was now charged with ensuring all organizations comply with the heretofore enacted but relatively unenforced  requirement to submit all relevant clinical trial data to http://www.clinicaltrials.gov

For further commentary on this move see the following reports from:
What is abundantly clear to me is that the FDA is left almost powerless - and if not powerless than certainly without sufficient resources - to successfully enforce its new power.  This requires collective industry leadership.  Bold, industry-initiated standards, infrastructure and old-fashioned peer pressure.

Here's what I wish.  

I wish that as a cell therapy industry we - through organizations like ISSCR, ARM, ISCT, etc and leading publishers of some of our leading journals like Regenerative Medicine, Cytotherapy, Cell Stem Cell, Stem Cells, etc - would take a leadership position on an issue like this.

I believe that as a relatively small and nascent sector of the biopharma industry we are more likely capable of collaborating on something important like this than larger, more established [entrenched] and diverse sectors.  Of course it requires the political will and cajones.

The payoff from our sector in taking a leadership role on this issue could potentially be enormous in terms of providing our sector with truly transparent and useful data.  Perhaps even more important would be the public profile such leadership would provide the sector.  Such a move requires bold leadership, pain, and cost but this is the kind of stuff that moves the needle and goes down as critical pivot points in history. 

Just my thought for the day...

--Lee

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