After many lawsuits and a 2012 U.S. Department of Justice settlement, last month an independent review found that antidepressant drug Paxil (paroxetine) is not safe for teenagers. The finding contradicts the conclusions of the initial 2001 drug trial, which the manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline had funded, then used its results to market Paxil as safe for adolescents.
The original trial, known as Study 329, is but one high-profile example of pharmaceutical industry influence known to pervade scientific research, including clinical trials the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires pharma companies to fund in order to assess their products. For that reason, people who read scientific papers as part of their jobs have come to rely on meta-analyses, supposedly thorough reviews summarizing the evidence from multiple trials, rather than trust individual studies. But a new analysis casts doubt on that practice as well, finding that the vast majority of meta-analyses of antidepressants have some industry link, with a corresponding suppression of negative results.
The latest study, published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, which evaluated 185 meta-analyses, found that one third of them were written by pharma industry employees. “We knew that the industry would fund studies to promote its products, but it’s very different to fund meta-analyses,” which “have traditionally been a bulwark of evidence-based medicine,” says John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Stanford University School of Medicine and co-author of the study. “It’s really amazing that there is such a massive influx of influence in this field.”
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