Intended for healthcare professionals

The BMJ Investigations Unit

The BMJ believes in investigative journalism as a force for change, working with our own journalists as well as freelance journalists and academics from around the globe. Over the past decade, our investigative journalism has unearthed research fraud and misconduct, prompted improvements in the transparency of clinical research, led to changes in guidelines and clinical practice, and triggered parliamentary inquiries.

High quality investigative journalism requires time to research, gather evidence, and ask questions. Developing these in-depth stories is expensive, and we actively seek external funding to help support and expand our efforts. Our past supporters include the European Commission and Open Society Foundations. We retain editorial independence—the freedom of editors to make decisions without interference from any funders—for all content that is produced and published; all decisions are taken strictly within the editorial structures of the journal.

In 2021, we are expanding The BMJ Investigations Unit with support from Arnold Ventures. If you would like to support investigative journalism at The BMJ, please contact Head of Journalism Rebecca Coombes.

We are keen to hear from journalists, individuals, and organisations interested in collaborating with us. Please contact investigations@bmj.com.

 

2021

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Covid 19: How harm reduction advocates and the tobacco industry capitalised on the pandemic to promote nicotine
Scientific papers suggesting that smokers are less likely to fall ill with covid-19 are being discredited as links to the tobacco industry are revealed


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Covid-19: How independent were the US and British vaccine advisory committees?
Experts who sit on national vaccine advisory panels are asked to disclose any industry ties and other conflicts of interest. But Paul D Thacker finds that disclosure standards differ widely


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How Wellcome’s opaque fossil fuel investments harm its global health mission
Why does the Wellcome Trust continue to shun calls to divest while raising the status of climate change in its strategy? Tim Schwab reports


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Covid-19: Mass testing at UK universities is haphazard and unscientific, finds BMJ investigation
The rollout of lateral flow tests across campuses has slipped off the radar. How is it working, and what lessons can be learnt?


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The EMA covid-19 data leak, and what it tells us about mRNA instability
Leaked documents show that some early commercial batches of Pfizer-BioNTech’s covid-19 vaccine had lower than expected levels of intact mRNA


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Covid-19, trust, and Wellcome: how charity’s pharma investments overlap with its research efforts
The major funder of health research stands to gain financially from the pandemic, raising questions about transparency and accountability


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Tracking down John Bell: how the case of the Oxford professor exposes a transparency crisis in government
Why won’t Oxford University or the government disclose the “long list” of financial interests of a high profile researcher


2020

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Conflicts of interest among the UK government’s covid-19 advisers
Little is known about the interests of the doctors, scientists, and academics on whose advice the UK government relies to manage the pandemic, finds Paul D Thacker


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Testing times for the government’s favoured antibody kit
Questions are being raised over the accuracy of a rapid antibody test for covid-19, and an opaque procurement system that shuts competitors out, reports Stephen Armstrong


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From blockbuster to “nichebuster”: how a flawed legislation helped create a new profit model for the drug industry
Twenty years ago, the EU passed a law to motivate the drug industry to develop medicines for rare diseases. But a system intended to help patients turned into a corporate cash machine


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Tobacco cash behind cannabis research in Oxford
A research collaboration that includes Oxford University is taking funding from the tobacco industry for research into the medicinal properties of cannabis


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Big cannabis in the UK: is industry support for wider patient access motivated by promises of recreational market worth billions?
The BMJ has uncovered links between companies, campaign groups, and individuals lobbying for wider patient access to cannabis for medical use and a parallel campaign to create a lucrative recreational market for the drug in the UK


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WHO’s malaria vaccine study represents a “serious breach of international ethical standards”
Experts are troubled by the apparent lack of informed consent in a large, cluster randomised study of the malaria vaccine. Peter Doshi reports


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Are medical schools turning a blind eye to racism?
A BMJ investigation finds that medical schools are failing to monitor racial harassment and abuse of ethnic minority students. Zosia Kmietowicz reports


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Specialty training: ethnic minority doctors’ reduced chance of being appointed is “unacceptable”
More than 25 years after two GPs uncovered bias in appointments to specialty training posts, new data show that the ethnicity gap persists, reports Gareth Iacobucci


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Covid-19: Many trusts have not done risk assessments for ethnic minority staff
Some NHS trusts have been slow to act on calls to assess the increased risks associated with covid-19. Gareth Iacobucci finds out why


2019

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US opioid prescribing: the federal government advisers with recent ties to big pharma
Tim Schwab investigates undisclosed competing interests at the influential National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine


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The whistleblowing drama behind Astellas’s suspension from the ABPI
Deborah Cohen and colleagues reveal fresh claims about the treatment of an Astellas employee who offered to help it clean up its act


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Leading ophthalmologist vows to stamp out “unjustified” screening for cataract surgery
NHS commissioners are ignoring clinical guidelines by rationing access to cataract surgery, an investigation by The BMJ finds


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Big tobacco, the new politics, and the threat to public health
Jonathan Gornall reveals how The Institute of Economic Affairs is funded by British American Tobacco and has links with senior conservative ministers. After orchestrating a series of attacks on public health initiatives, the IEA may now hold the key to No 10


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Questions over future of global diabetes group as founding members resign
While the numbers of people with diabetes worldwide soar, the organisation at the forefront of the global fight against the disease is tearing itself apart


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Making China safe for Coke: how Coca-Cola shaped obesity science and policy in China
Susan Greenhalgh investigates how, faced with shrinking Western markets, the soft drink giant sought to secure sales and build its image in China


2018

 

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How cow’s milk protein allergy is extending the reach of infant formula manufacturers
The condition may be helping the baby milk industry to form relationships with the paediatric profession, finds Chris van Tulleken—with potential for harm to mothers and children


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What happens when the world’s biggest medical device maker becomes a “health services provider”?
A new cardiac suite with state-of-the-art equipment is developed for a cash strapped hospital in Mexico by the world’s leading medical device maker. What’s not to like? Jeanne Lenzer reports


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How lobbying blocked European safety checks for dangerous medical implants
Industry lobbyists have wrecked plans to overhaul safety regulations for medical devices in Europe


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Patients with type 1 diabetes are missing out on flash glucose devices
Tens of thousands of UK patients with type 1 diabetes are being denied the potential benefits of glucose monitoring devices because of a postcode lottery


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How mesh became a four letter word
Jonathan Gornall charts the rapid rise and precipitous fall of vaginal mesh

 


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The trial that launched millions of mesh implant procedures: did money compromise the outcome?
Jonathan Gornall uncovers how the original evidence on mesh was mired in a multimillion pound deal, industry funded research, and undisclosed conflicts of interest


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Pandemrix vaccine: why was the public not told of early warning signs?
Eight years after the "swine flu" outbreak, a lawsuit has unearthed internal reports suggesting problems with the safety of GSK’s Pandemrix vaccine


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Oxford TB vaccine study calls into question selective use of animal data
Researchers were disappointed when a clinical trial of a new tuberculosis vaccine failed to show benefit, but should it have gone ahead when animal studies had already raised doubts?


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The pharma deals that CCGs fail to declare
GP commissioning groups have accepted hundreds of payments from drug companies that they have not disclosed to patients and the public


2017

 

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The unofficial vaccine educators: are CDC funded non-profits sufficiently independent?
Peter Doshi investigates the semi-transparent world of vaccine advocacy organization


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Are the odds shifting against pharma in the fight for cheaper treatment for macular degeneration?
Doctors plan to prescribe bevacizumab despite legal threats from drug companies, and against GMC and NICE guidance. Yet Deborah Cohen reports the tide may be turning


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Big data’s big bias: bringing noise and conflicts to US drug regulation
A little known private foundation to support FDA’s “regulatory science” takes money out of the FDA’s coffers to support analyses using levels of evidence recommended by industry; many of the foundation’s directors have financial links to the drug and device makers that the FDA regulates. Jeanne Lenzer investigates


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Coca-Cola’s secret influence on medical and science journalists
A series of journalism conferences on obesity received covert funding from Coca-Cola. Paul Thacker investigates


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Is the United States Preventive Services Task Force still a voice of caution?
Recent recommendations issued by the USPSTF have surprised some experts who say they may lead to overtesting and overtreatment


2016

 

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Manufacturer failed to disclose faulty device in rivaroxaban trial
An investigation by The BMJ finds that companies were aware of concerns about a faulty device in a regulatory trial and reveals data that suggests participants were put at unnecessary risk


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A pill too hard to swallow: how the NHS is limiting access to high priced drugs
How NHS England tried to limit access to expensive new drugs for hepatitis C

 


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Data too important to share: do those who control the data control the message?
Hydroxyethyl starch solutions for fluid resuscitation fell from grace after severe warnings about their safety. But the academic investigators that led a landmark trial that helped precipitate this downfall are refusing to share their data


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Rivaroxaban: can we trust the evidence?
An investigation by The BMJ has uncovered the use of a faulty device in a regulatory drug trial, potentially putting patients at unnecessary risk


2015

 

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India’s “health camps”: the drug rep will see you now
Pharmaceutical sales representatives are screening people in India in return for prescriptions for their products while calling it corporate social responsibility


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General practice commissioning: in whose interests?
An investigation into England’s clinical commissioning groups shows that many are commissioning from organisations in which board members are involved


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Public Health England’s troubled trail
The handling of evidence for its controversial report on e-cigarettes adds to questions about the credibility of the organisation’s advice


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Tickets to Glyndebourne or the Oval? Big tobacco’s bid to woo parliamentarians
To what extent is the tobacco industry able to reach out and influence parliamentarians? Jonathan Gornall reports


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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: protecting the private good?
After revelations that the CDC is receiving some funding from industry, Jeanne Lenzer investigates how it might have affected the organisation’s decisions


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Attacks on publicly funded trials: what happens when industry does not want to know the answer
Deborah Cohen reveals the challenges facing those conducting publicly funded clinical trials into the use of intravitreal bevacizumab


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Why have UK doctors been deterred from prescribing Avastin?
Doctors in England’s NHS have been left seemingly unable to prescribe a cheap, safe, and effective drug despite its flourishing use elsewhere in Europe and the US


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Sugar: spinning a web of influence
Public health scientists are involved with the food companies being blamed for the obesity crisis, reports Jonathan Gornall


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Why aren’t the US Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration speaking with one voice on flu?
The CDC's claim that Tamiflu could "save lives" is at the center of a heated controversy


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The truth about cash for referrals
Private hospital chains have been “buying” referrals by offering clinicians lucrative packages, including free facilities in sought after locations. And the doctors’ regulator is turning a blind eye to those who are tempted


2014

 

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A third of NHS contracts awarded since health act have gone to private sector
In the run up to the UK general election, accusations are flying about the alleged privatisation of the NHS in England


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Dabigatran: how the drug company withheld important analyses
Deborah Cohen finds that recommendations for use of new generation oral anticoagulants may be flawed because regulators did not see evidence showing that monitoring drug plasma levels could improve safety


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GPs’ workload climbs as government austerity agenda bites
Since 2010 the UK government has brought in a raft of changes to the welfare system in a bid to reduce the national deficit


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Under the influence
Jonathan Gornall discovers that the government consultation into introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol in England and Wales was a sham and that politicians ignored the strong health evidence in favour of protecting the interests of industry


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The battle for NHS 111: who should run it now?
It all sounded so simple: a new phone number for urgent medical advice. But from its implementation the idea began to unravel


2013

 

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Majority of panelists on controversial new cholesterol guideline have current or recent ties to drug manufacturers
Panelists of the working panel that wrote the controversial cholesterol guidelines on reducing cardiovascular risk had ties to the drug industry


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A sixth of hospitals in England have expanded private patient options this year, the BMJ finds
As hospitals look for ways to boost their income, Gareth Iacobucci discovers that some are taking advantage of the rationing decisions being made by hard pressed clinical commissioning groups


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Has pancreatic damage from glucagon suppressing diabetes drugs been underplayed?
A BMJ investigation has found growing safety concerns linked to incretin mimetics' mechanism of action


2012

 

How a fake hip showed up failings in European device regulation
Deborah Cohen investigates how EU authorities would be prepared to allow a fake hip prosthesis with dangerous design flaws onto the market


The truth about sports drinks
Deborah Cohen investigates the links between the sports drinks industry and academia that have helped market the science of hydration


How safe are metal-on-metal hip implants?
Deborah Cohen examines the evidence of risk from metal-on-metal hips, the manufacturers’ inadequate response, and how the regulatory bodies failed to give doctors and patients the information they need to make informed decisions


Search for evidence goes on
In the UK, general practitioners can now prescribe Oseltamivir it to anyone with flu and the drug is the mainstay of influenza treatment in critical care. How has this happened?


US advisory panellists on drug’s safety had ties to manufacturers
At least four members of a key committee advising the US Food and Drug Administration on the safety of a top selling drug have had financial ties to its manufacturers


2011

 

The Lancet’s two days to bury bad news
Brian Deer reveals what happened when he reported misconduct in Andrew Wakefield’s MMR research to the medical journal that published it


How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money
Brian Deer reveals a secret scheme to raise huge sums from a campaign, launched at a London medical school, that claimed links between MMR, autism, and bowel disease


How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed
Brian Deer reveals a secret scheme to raise huge sums from a campaign, launched at a London medical school, that claimed links between MMR, autism, and bowel disease


2010

 

How small changes led to big profits for insulin manufacturers
Deborah Cohen and Philip Carter discover why more expensive analogue insulins are increasingly prescribed instead of cheaper human insulin despite lack of evidence of benefit for patients with type 2 diabetes


Rosiglitazone: what went wrong?
Over 10 years after the diabetes drug rosiglitazone was approved by regulators, and despite studies on tens of thousands of people, questions remain about its cardiovascular safety


WHO and the pandemic flu “conspiracies”
Key scientists advising the World Health Organization on planning for an influenza pandemic had done paid work for pharmaceutical firms that stood to gain from the guidance they were preparing


2004

 

FDA to review “missing” drug company documents
The US Food and Drug Administration has agreed to review confidential drug company documents that went missing during a controversial product liability suit more than 10 years ago


Documents missing from a 10 year old murder case sent to the BMJ
The BMJ has been given a set of documents that mysteriously went missing from a US mass murder case 10 years ago