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Medical Research Bias and Concealment Harming Patients

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

German scientists say tighter regulations are needed to protect patients from "publication bias" from medical researchers. Findings over the years show that pharmaceutical companies and researchers commonly neglect to publish findings of medical research or adverse outcomes of drugs that could harm patients. The scientists say in some instances “legal regulations” mandate withholding the results of medical research.

Scientists from the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) compiled over 60 instances of medical research findings that span mental health disorders, pain, cardiovascular and skin disease, cancer, and infection, published in the journal “Trials”. The researches gathered information from hundreds of journals and other resources, finding that medical research information had either been changed or completely omitted 40 to 60 percent of the time.

Beate Wieseler, Deputy Head of IQWiG's Drug Assessment Department says, "In this way study results are often presented in a more positive way than is actually the case.” Concealing the results of medical research is a common practice found by the analysis.

The researchers also discovered over 90 drugs that had been studied, yet 60 percent of the findings had been unpublished five years after the drugs had been approved and tested in 900 trials. In other instances, only favorable drug research results had been published.

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Hiding and publishing biased results of medical research can harm patients and cause delays in beneficial healthcare interventions.” As a result, physicians and patients use treatments that are actually futile or even harmful," says Beate Wieseler. For example, researchers estimate that drugs prescribed in the 1980s to prevent irregular heart beat cost tens of thousands of lives, because early signs of dangerous adverse effects were not published.”

The impetus behind uncovering publication bias in medical research comes from the IQWiG's own experience working with the antidepressant reboxetine. The researchers became aware of unpublished findings from Pfizer only after the drug company received considerable pressure from the public.

The researchers say, “… in order to protect patients, we need legal regulations, so that results of all clinical trials are published swiftly and completely." In the case of the drug reboxetine, results were worse than what appeared in published studies.

Beate Wieseler says, “For many years, not only patients but also physicians have been deceived” by withholding of medical research data and unpublished findings. The findings from the analysis reveal the harm to patients from concealed medical research findings and publication bias from the scientific community.




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