In the past, data from clinical trials of new drugs and medical devices have been the property of the companies that designed them, and they were allowed to control how and what data was released. The FDA and international equivalents research new products before granting approval, so data the company generated during drug development was up to the company to disseminate as it wished. Now, with the widely held perception that companies have only been releasing results that favored their products, the pendulum is swinging toward regulation making all data on approved drugs and devices available to the public.
The Transparency Campaigners
In Britain, the transparency initiative has been headed by the British Medical Journal, which now requires all authors of drug or device clinical trials who publish in the Journal to provide full scientific study data to anyone with a reasonable request. Also, the Cochrane Collaboration (an international non-profit) began campaigning for increased transparency when it was attempting to verify the efficacy of TamiFlu and was unsatisfied with the available data.
These major players are joined by doctors, researchers, medical journals, and scientific societies who advocate more transparency in publishing detailed results of clinical trials and as much data about the specifics of the trials as possible. They have been pressing for this data not only going forward, but also for all medicines currently on the market.
The Drug Regulators: EU, EMA, FDA
In December 2013, the EU drafted a clinical trials regulation that will require clinical trials to be registered and results uploaded to a database that can be accessed by the public. This legislation is expected to be formally approved this year. Also, the Public Accounts Committee (of British Parliament), has issued a report this monththat calls for “full methods and results” to be released from all clinical trials, future and past.
Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is the European equivalent of the FDA, is considering a new policy on proactive disclosure of trial results, but further discussion of the issue has been tabled until March. Last year, The EMA received injunctions from both AbbVie and InterMune received injunctions against the EMA to prevent it from releasing trial data to competitors, but these injunctions were lifted last month.
In the United States, basic results of all clinical trials must now be registered in a national database that is accessible to the public (www.clinicaltrials.gov). The FDA also publishes staff reviews and other documents when it approves a new drug. However, federal laws restrict what kinds of information can be released, especially data that could reveal personal or commercially confidential information.
Self-regulation by the Pharmaceutical Industry
The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) are fighting back by drawing up “principles for responsible data sharing” for pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily abide by. Some companies have already promised to release years of detailed clinical data upon request, in response to public relations issues.
The ABPI (Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry) has pointed out that a peer-reviewed study it commissioned in 2013 showed a “positive trend” of increasing levels of disclosure – almost nine out of ten of all industry-sponsored trials were disclosed as of January 31, 2013.
Balancing Economic Interests with the Public’s “Right to Know”
PhRMA has argued that proposals for mandates to release all trial information go too far. “If you dump onto the sidewalk all the data, and you include commercially protected information,” he said, “then you’re essentially giving to competitors what we invested billions of dollars in.”
PhARMA claims that if the medical research industry is forced to disclose data that allows competitors to replicate their products, companies will be deterred from developing new drugs and devices that could improve quality of life for many people. On the other hand, patent protection prevents this kind of product replication. At the same time, publication bias can be used by unscrupulous members of the industry to mislead the public.
When the EFPIA/PhRMA pact was announced last year, EFPIA acknowledged that the industry was slow in affecting change. Given the exposure this topic has received recently, efforts to self-regulate may be too late to affect the groundswell of opinion in favor of legislating more transparency in drug development.
This post is based on an article by Ian Schofield – “The rising tide of trial transparency.”