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How drug companies squelch negative findings

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Scott Hensley of the Wall Street Journal published an interesting piece last week headlined, “Quest for youth: how research on anti-aging pill lost momentum.”

In it, he writes; “Four years after Pfizer Inc. ended a clinical test of an experimental anti-aging pill and stopped its development for that use, the results of the study still haven’t been published in a scientific journal, where other researchers could take advantage of them.

The lag highlights an enduring issue in pharmaceutical research: the fate of data from trials of drugs that fail to live up to expectations. In recent years, drug makers have come under attack for failing to disclose negative research about medicines they have on the market. But there’s another twist to the data dilemma that concerns drugs that don’t get that far.

The research behind medicines that get nixed in the trial stage could be valuable to the scientific community. But that information may not immediately reach people, working in academia or at other companies, who might be able to solve the problems or otherwise build on the results.”

But, oh, did Pfizer enjoy the publicity after small exploratory studies “showed promise.” And journalists continue to cover non-peer-reviewed presentations on the drug at scientific meetings. See one review of one recent story. Journalists must realize they’re not getting the whole story when they report on “revelations” at scientific meetings.

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