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Medical Journals Insist Drug Manufacturers Register All Trials

The September 9, 2004 issue of the Washington Post contains a news story that speaks to drug companies only publishing the best results from drug trials while hiding the ones that may not have been so successful. In response a dozen editors of the most prestigious medical journals jointly announced that they will refuse to publish drug research sponsored by pharmaceutical companies unless all the studies on the drugs are registered in a public database from the outset.

This step is designed to bring to light unpublished studies that find medications to be ineffective or dangerous. In many cases such studies are just buried while the more favorable ones are submitted for publishing. Gregory D. Curfman, executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine explains the rationale by stating, "When a pharmaceutical company sponsors a clinical trial and the results turn out not to be in the best financial interests of the company, it has been our experience these results are never made public."

The article noted that more than two-thirds of the studies on antidepressants given to depressed children demonstrated that the medications were no better than sugar pills. The Journal of the American Medical Association, the Annals of Internal Medicine, the Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine as well as several other international publications have signed on to the new initiative. It is expected that more scientific journals will join in.

A number of initiatives are also underway in the US Congress to enforce registration of drug trials. One such possible initiative may impose penalties on companies that do not register their trials with the government-run database before recruiting patients. Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts noted that there would be resistance from the drug industry to such legislation. He stated, "I understand the concern of some companies that if they report an adverse result their stock might suffer. But consider the alternative, patients suffer as doctors prescribe in the dark."