Clinical trials funded by biopharma companies are much more likely to turn out positive than the trials backed by either government or non-profit groups, according to a new study. And the authors suggest that the biopharma companies may be rigging the game to get the results they want.
In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, investigators poured over the results of close to 550 clinical studies listed on clinicaltrials.gov. And they found that 85 percent of the industry-supported trials were positive, compared to only half of the government-backed studies and 61 percent of trials supported by non-profit groups. And roughly three quarters of the studies funded by the drug industry were published in medical journals.
"We are not saying that industry is necessarily deliberately biasing the results," lead author Florence Bourgeois told Reuters. But it could be. "The concern would be that there really is a bias in the way a trial is designed and conducted based on the funding source." And that could well be skewing the way medicine is practiced, giving industry better odds at gaining approvals.
There is another possible explanation for the better odds. Faced with a poor track record on new drug approvals, private industry has been working for years to improve its chances of success in clinical trials by focusing its efforts on the best drugs in the pipeline. And there has been considerable work done to develop new technology to identify better drug candidates. Drugs with poor odds for success often get shelved. That may not be the only explanation for the difference in track records, but it could help explain why industry is doing better at this than either government agencies or nonprofits.