Researchers unearth Pfizer’s buried data

pharmafile | October 14, 2010 | News story | Research and Development Ben Goldacre, Pfizer, publication, reboxetine, trial data 

Researchers from Germany’s cost-effectiveness body IQWiG have unearthed a mountain of unpublished data from trials of Pfizer’s reboxetine that show that the antidepressant may be harmful.

They found published studies overestimated reboxetine’s benefit by 115% when compared to placebo and 23% when compared with other antidepressants, and that they also underestimated harm.

Their findings were published in the British Medical Journal where they damningly concluded that: “Reboxetine is, overall, an ineffective and potentially harmful antidepressant.”

The researchers found that 74% of the data from patients in trials for the antidepressant had gone unpublished until this week.

A Pfizer spokesman said: “Pfizer discloses the results of its clinical trials to regulatory authorities all around the world.

“These regulatory authorities carefully balance the risks and benefits of each medication, and reflect all important safety and efficacy information in the approved product labelling.”

The spokesman said that Pfizer will review the meta-analysis relating to reboxetine published in the BMJ in detail and will “provide further comment after completing the review”.

Mandatory publication of pharma trials

The researchers used reboxetine as an example of a bigger problem within the industry.

In their final remark in the BMJ, they said that all published evidence is affected by publication bias, “underlining the urgent need for mandatory publication of trial data”.

A ‘regulatory gap’ still exists in the EU whereby pharma companies are not legally required to make public all trial data.

There is a centralised trial register in Europe, the EudraCT, but it is only available to be viewed by regulators and pharma, not the public.

Speaking exclusively to Pharmafocus last month, science writer and author of Bad Science Ben Goldacre said the idea of EudraCT goes against the “implicit moral contract” between trial volunteers and patients wanting to contribute by “adding to a pooled knowledge of medicines”.

He argued that there needs to be an open and compulsory register for all trial data in order to avoid publication bias and make the industry more transparent.

This is not the first time such practices have been questioned. Last month GlaxoSmithKline’s diabetes drug Avandia was pulled from the market by the EMA after the company was accused of burying negative data from its RECORD clinical trial which showed a link between the drug and certain cardiovascular events.  

Ben Adams

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