The findings are invariably shouted from the front pages of newspapers, and the medical journals become just as excited and fast-track-publish the trial results so that they can be made immediately available.
Sadly, virtually all of these magic bullets prove to be blanks, with the only results being that patients are given false hope.
A study of this phenomenon found 143 trials that had been ended early – often when only half the patients had completed the course of treatment. Indeed, the trials were all ended at a point when the results were looking good. But had they been allowed to continue on to their natural conclusion, the results would have looked far less impressive as adverse reactions or a deterioration in the patients” health are likely to have become evident. Interestingly, it was a drug company that had sponsored virtually every trial that was ended prematurely.
The early termination of trials is a fairly recent development. It could be seen as something that’s quite human, as we’re all willing and anxious to believe that we’ve discovered an answer to some of the world’s biggest killers, but it could also be seen as a way for the drug companies to make some quick profits, too (JAMA, 2005; 24: 2203-9).