Pharma Mobilizing Consumer Groups Over Drug Trials Data

There was an interesting article Big pharma mobilising patients in battle over drugs trials data in last Sunday’s Guardian, a UK newspaper.  It was written by Ian Sample, the Guardian’s science correspondent.  Here are the two opening sentences:

“The pharmaceutical industry has ‘mobilised’ an army of patient groups to lobby against plans to force companies to publish secret documents on drugs trials.”

“Drugs companies publish only a fraction of their results and keep much of the information to themselves, but regulators want to ban the practice. If companies published all of their clinical trials data, independent scientists could reanalyse their results and check companies’ claims about the safety and efficacy of drugs.”

In political circles in Europe, there is growing momentum towards legislation that would compel drug companies to release all their research data on a particular drug, including results that show negative outcomes and/or adverse side effects.

This movement, which incidentally exists here in the US also, is important because psycho-pharmaceutical companies typically “cherry pick” their in-house data and publish only the results that cast their product in a favorable light.

This is a particular problem because it is very easy to “massage” data to produce the result one wants.  It is noteworthy in this context that 90% of industry-funded research “finds” in favor of the product of the funding company.  (Heres et al, 2006)

For instance, suppose I believe, with a deep and heartfelt conviction, that people of Irish ancestry are lazy wastrels.  (I’m allowed to say things like this because I am myself Irish, so no hate mail, please!)

So I decide to do a piece of research to prove my point.  I go through the Baltimore, Maryland phone book noting each Irish name I come across, and also noting the next non-Irish name, until I have, say, 5,000 of each.  Then I call all these individuals and ask them three questions:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Employed or not employed

And because I’m charming and persuasive, and I don’t call in the middle of dinner, they all answer cooperatively, and I get the following results.

Age(mean) Male Female Emp Unemp
Irish names 42.5 2470 2530 4000 1000
Other names 41.7 2510 2490 4007 973

 

It’s obvious that there is no appreciable difference between the two groups in terms of employment status.  But because I have asked two other questions, (besides employment status), I actually can examine the data in several ways.  Here’s how it works:

I can break the survey groups down into smaller categories:

Irish names, Male, 20-25 vs. other names, Male, 20-25;
Irish names, Male, 25-30 vs. other names, Male, 25-30;
Irish names, Male, 30-35 vs. other names, Male, 30-35;
Etc…

and check the employment/unemployment rates for each sub-category.

By breaking down the data in this way, I have converted my single survey into 20 different surveys (10 for males and 10 for females).  There’s a very good chance that at least one of these will yield a result consistent with my prejudice.

For instance, I might find the following:

Employed Unemployed % UE
Irish names, Male, 35-40 120 180 60%
Other names, Male, 35-40 170 130 43%

 

Now I can publish my results: Males of Irish ancestry aged 35-40 have a 60% unemployed rate vs. 43% for controls.  I make no mention of the fact that I cherry-picked this survey from my original data.  This is a critical omission, because whenever data is sub-divided in this way, the percentages in the sub-divisions never mirror the original result perfectly.  There’s always a measure of scatter.

This is why it’s so important that the psycho-pharmaceutical companies be required to show all their data – so that independent researchers can check for data massaging of this kind.  Incidentally, the example I gave is simplistic.  In practice, there are a great many ways to massage data, some of which are quite sophisticated.

Getting back to the Guardian’s article, it is reported that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) have drawn up a strategy to combat the push for transparency.  A memo from Richard Bergstöm, director of EFPIA, outlining this strategy, was sent to many pharmaceutical companies, and was leaked by a drug company employee.  The memo mentions “…mobilising patient groups to express concern about the risk to public health by non-scientific re-use of data.”

Here in America it has been obvious for decades that the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has been funded by pharma, and has been their willing mouthpiece with regards to the spurious medicalization of human problems and the pill-for-every-problem solutions peddled by psychiatry.  (There has been some talk recently of NAMI distancing themselves from pharma, but I have seen no clear indications of this yet.)

I’m not familiar with the patient groups in Europe, but it sounds like similar dynamics are at work there.

What strikes me most markedly about these kinds of activities is the self-serving cynicism of the pharmaceutical groups. Their basic objective, of course, is to sell drugs by getting their psychiatry friends to invent more and more “illnesses,” with lower and lower thresholds.  They get psychiatrists to do this in the old-fashioned way – by giving them big bundles of money.

That’s bad enough.  But they then have the gall to cozy up to the victims of their neurotoxic chemicals, convince these victims that they are their friends, and recruit them to promote the pharma-for-all message.  This also is achieved with big bundles of money.  It’s very difficult for a cash-strapped, grass-roots organization to resist the overtures of a smiling, highly-trained drug rep with an open checkbook.

The fact that the director of EFPIA felt sufficient confidence in his association’s relationships with patient groups to instruct his member companies to “mobilize” them, speaks volumes.

We already know, from the corrupted research, and the ghost-writing, that pharma routinely subordinates client welfare to corporate profits.

But the notion that patient groups would join them in their fight against research transparency suggests that they view the members and leaders of these groups as little more than mindless minions.  How could increased transparency pose any kind of a threat to client welfare or public health?  How could pharma imagine that patient groups would buy this garbage?

But wait?  Psychiatrists have been buying the same garbage for decades.  As Julie Andrews almost said:  “A spoonful of money helps the medicine go down.”

And let’s not forget, if the memo had not been leaked, this “mobilization” would be going on right now, right under our noses.

Pharma-psychiatry is something flawed and rotten.