How drug companies get the clinical trial results they want

Every prescription drug (or over-the-counter medication) in your bathroom cabinet is there because it’s been evaluated in research called a clinical trial. For a basic introduction to clinical trials, let’s turn to former editor-in-chief of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marcia Angell, who wrote the following in her frightening landmark piece called “Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption” (New York Review of Books, 1/15/2009):

“Before a new drug can enter the market, its manufacturer must sponsor clinical trials to show the Food and Drug Administration that the drug is safe and effective, usually as compared with a placebo or dummy pill.

“The results of all the trials (there may be many) are submitted to the FDA, and if one or two trials are positive – that is, they show effectiveness without serious risk – the drug is usually approved, even if all the other trials are negative.” 

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Medical journals: “information-laundering for Big Pharma”?

Whenever you read a medical journal article with a title like Medical Journals Are an Extension of the Marketing Arm of Pharmaceutical Companies, you know it’s a bad day for patients.

As a heart attack survivor who spends way too much of my time hanging out with cardiologists, pain specialists and other doctors who read these journals, I especially hate seeing this article written by a person like Dr. Robert Smith, who was himself the editor of the British Medical Journal for 25 years.*

Dr. Smith’s not alone. Consider Dr. Richard Horton of the medical journal, Lancet, who once wrote:

“Journals have devolved into information-laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry.”

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Drug company uses movie promotion to target your kids

It was Mickey Mouse who started it all. Back in 1934, the iconic cartoon mouse generated $600,000 in merchandise sales for its creator, Walt Disney – a staggering sum for the era.  Although it was during the Great Depression, Disney was able to save his struggling film company and his business partners from bankruptcy – including the Ingersoll-Waterbury Clock Company, maker of the first Mickey Mouse watches.

It wasn’t until 1978, however, that the modern age of movie merchandising really took off. George Lucas cashed in on the trend with $2.6 billion worth of the collectible toys he sold based on his original Star Wars trilogy.

For the first time in history, a movie producer partnered with a toy company (in this case, a young company called Kenner) to create little 3 3/4″ high collectible “action figures” as well as assorted Star Wars toys, books, lunch boxes, backpacks, etc. (My kids’ rooms were filled with these!) Even the popular TV sitcom Modern Family recently featured a discussion between Mitchell and Cam about their favourite Luke Skywalker collectible – “Luke wearing the shorty robe”.

But today, the release of a new movie includes the launch of corporate partnerships that not only sell action figures, but help push over-the-counter drugs for children.   Continue reading