RESEARCH: When, and why, the money runs out

Research is an essential ingredient of medicine. Drugs and therapies can be evaluated and reconsidered, and better methods can be adopted as part of clinical practice.

But research can be a time-consuming – and expensive – process, and one that often needs a benefactor. Pharmaceutical companies are frequent sponsors of research trials, especially if they have a drug of their own that they want evaluating.

Sometimes he who pays the piper calls the tune, and we’ve come across examples in the past when results have been massaged, or the summary section altered, to show the benefactor’s product in a better light.

This doesn’t always happen, of course. Take the case of the CONVINCE trial, which failed to put forward a convincing case for the calcium-channel blocker verapamil, manufactured by GD Searle as Calan, and by other manufacturers under different brand names.

A pity really as GD Searle was the sponsor of the trial – and then suddenly withdrew its sponsorship before it was completed.

Up to the point the plug was pulled, the researchers found that verapamil was no better than other classes of heart drugs in preventing heart disease. The researchers, based at Rush University in Chicago, based their findings on 16,602 participants who were given either verapamil or atenolol or hydrochlorothiazide.

Searle refused to give a reason for their sudden withdrawal of sponsorship. Certainly ownership changed several times during the lifetime of the trial, from Searle to Monsanto, and to Pharmacia, but could it be they got wind of the findings? The researchers say not, but we will all have our own views, no doubt.

(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003; 289:2073-82).

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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