Thursday, 21 November 2013

Basic Scientist Helping Pharma

Fugh-Berman A. How Basic Scientists Help the Pharmaceutical Industry Market DrugsPLOS BIOL: Nov , 2013 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001716

Biomedical researchers depend on industry. Accepting a sponsor's gifts or statistical or editorial “assistance” creates an opportunity for results to be suppressed or spun to advantage a targeted drug or disadvantage competing therapies. Participating in ghostwriting or ghost-management of publications or posters is ethically unacceptable, as is accepting sponsor suggestions on whether or not to publish, present, bury, or selectively report specific studies.

The under reporting of negative results and misrepresentation of reported results distorts the biomedical literature, makes therapies look better than they are, can mislead both researchers and clinicians, and may have adverse effects on public health. It goes without saying that scientists should accurately report and analyze studies, but publishing negative data should also be considered an obligation to the scientific community. Negative studies are crucial to assessing benefits and risks of therapies and to determining whether further research is indicated.

Clinicians and academic medical centres have been grappling with the implications of industry influence on clinical practice, but the issue has not been discussed widely within basic science. It is time for basic scientists to begin a difficult conversation regarding the ethical and scientific hazards of working with industry.



ProfG constantly gets comments that he has gone to the Dark Side (Pharma). You have likewise suggested that the MD's are in the pocket of big pharma.


Conflicts of interest has focused on relationships between industry and physicians or clinical researchers. However, basic scientists are not immune to industry influence on research and publications, and may be important to industry in the production and dissemination of marketing messages.

Industry-supported basic science researchers found industry-friendly results. Negative data seldom gets reported

Selective presentations and publications are important tactics for industry especially to go to meetings where there is less intensive peer review so they can slip stuff into the public domain..

Having said that the first abstract that I ever submitted to go an International Meeting was rejected...I was gutted and did not get to go to the meeting because of that. 

I was not publishing stuff for pharma it was my PhD work but it was very anti-dogma at the time. So the powers that be did not like it because a cottage industry had built up around the dogma. Maybe this has made me a sceptic. It turns out the dogma was based on results from one strain of mouse and the results in another strain of mouse was identical to what I had found in the guinea pig years earlier. I knew my results were solid because I did them more than enough times....and that told be you find what you find and this is the mantra in the lab. I am happy to accept negative data...this is what science is. However, I like to think what we find other people who do the work will find too. 

Publication of abstracts keeps the drug in the public eye whilst long term-trials are ongoing or even when drugs are already licensed so it is indeed a marketing tool. Is it ethical to do animal studies on a licensed drug because does it matter what happens in an animal, when it is in a human, why not study the human? You can make an argument either way

The paper suggests that universities frown on researchers signing agreements that give funders the right to suppress the publication of findings however invariably the contracts are between the University and pharma rather than Pharma and Researcher in all contracts I have been involved with and they do sometimes sign up vetos....e.g. it took 7 years to publish something that was vetoed by pharma. 

The data was positive that is what they wanted to hide so it did not give competitors a nod and a wink, likewise we have done negative studies that are still locked-up in a cupboard. But we are publishing data that was done many years ago, it depends when the time is right for what you want to say

Negative data are harder to publish because you often need show why the study failed and some times this takes drug and with limited drug supply you are restricted to do what you are contracted to do.  Once we did some work with a cladribine-like drug and it didn't do what we thought it should and then we found out that cladribine does not work in rodents as it does in humans, so when we see cladribine doing things in EAE we think Emmmmm.

If we are doing contract testing we like to give a "yes" or "no" answer and as long as we get a clear result I am happy.  If data is negative it can be as informative as positive stuff. It sometimes takes longer to surface from our side.

We have done contract testing for companies and this generally means the data is the companies to do what they like with the data, because they paid for a service. Furthermore sometimes all you have is a code name and it may bear no relevance to what the actual drug name is, so you don't know enough to publish. I could point to a company patent where some of MD2 handy work is. This is visible but does not appear on the academic radar because they do not search patents in their desire for data..a very big trick missed.

Also companies are in danger when they let their precious drugs loose on academics, because some people do not follow agreed protocols and dabble and then get odd results and publish them. For this reason companies generally keep their lead compounds to themselves but give out a sister drug to academics to dabble with. They get results about what works and what doesn't before trying with the lead compound and it stops adverse events being tarred to the lead compounds. 

However working with Pharma can give you access to cutting edge tools and can also provide an income which you can use to do the blue sky research that you want to do but have not got the funding to do.

Read the paper its online. We declare conflicts of interests.



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