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Is the conflict of interest unacceptable when drug companies conduct trials on their own drugs? Yes

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 30 November 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4949
  1. Ben Goldacre, doctor and writer
  1. 1Nuffield College, Oxford OX1 1NF
  1. ben{at}

    Ben Goldacre argues that the financial interests of drug companies lead to distorted evidence, but Vincent Lawton (doi:10.1136/bmj.b4953) believes that adequate safeguards exist to keep bias in check

    The practice of medicine is based on evidence. We need this evidence base to be complete, and of the highest quality, so that we can make the right decisions, but at present, drug companies produce most of the evidence we use. There is no doubt that these companies have a conflict of interest when they conduct trials: they want to sell their products, and so naturally they want a positive result from the trials they sponsor. But there is now good evidence from systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and case studies that this conflict of interest results in bad evidence, which distorts medical decision making and so harms patients.

    We will start with a tangible story, from a single field. Rochon1 analysed the literature on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and found all the studies that had ever been published where one NSAID was compared to another. In every single trial, the sponsoring company’s …

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