BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL (BMJ)
Evidence-based medicine and research have come under recent scrutiny due to the COVID-19 pandemic fallout. It now seems as if any side of the COVID health impact and vaccine adverse event debate can be argued, given the amount of “evidence-based” science available at a click of a button.
But how much of this so-called science can be trusted?
An opinion paper titled “The illusion of evidence based medicine,” recently published in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal (BMJ), claims that evidence-based medicine “has been corrupted by corporate interests, failed regulation, and commercialisation of academia.”
It is now common practice in the pharmaceutical industry to suppress “negative trial results,” according to the authors. Adding that most companies do not share “raw data with the academic research community” and fail to report adverse events associated with their products.
“The release into the public domain of previously confidential pharmaceutical industry documents has given the medical community valuable insight into the degree to which industry-sponsored clinical trials are misrepresented,” wrote the authors. Adding, “Until this problem is corrected, evidence-based medicine will remain an illusion.”
So why do we continue taking medical advice from the same corporations that profit from us being sick, manipulate clinical trials to boost sales and have received some of the largest criminal fines in U.S. history? Because big dollars talk.
Pharmaceutical companies have been throwing some serious resources at their advertising departments as of late. From the Grammys and the Oscars to the mainstream media, Pfizer’s logo has become deeply entrenched into the psyches of many people.
“In 2020, the pharmaceutical industry spent 4.58 billion U.S. dollars on advertising on national TV in the United States, unsurprisingly representing a big shift in spending compared to the 2019 pre-covid market. In 2020 TV ad spending of the pharma industry accounted for 75 per cent of the total ad spend,” as reported by Statista.
Pharmaceutical advertising laws change depending on the country you reside in. For example, the practice has practically been outlawed in Australia since the late 80s. But in the U.S., where the symptoms of free-market capitalism have infected almost every part of society, big pharma can advertise almost anything – anywhere they want.
In 2016, several publications revealed that the top 10 pharmaceutical companies in the world spend more money on marketing than on research and development. As a result, in 2020 the United States alone spent a record 539 billion U.S. dollars on medicines – up 4.9% from 2019.
Shockingly, almost half of the American Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) budget comes from the very organisations the regulator is tasked to regulate, through what is known as “industry user fees.”
These fees are paid by pharmaceutical companies who are seeking to gain approval for new medical devices and drugs.
To remedy this issue, the BMJ paper authors have proposed a list of reforms to the industry to help liberate “regulators from drug company funding.”
These reforms include a “taxation imposed on pharmaceutical companies to allow public funding of independent trials; and, perhaps most importantly, anonymised individual patient-level trial data posted, along with study protocols, on suitably accessible websites so that third parties, self-nominated or commissioned by health technology agencies, could rigorously evaluate the methodology and trial results.”
Only time will tell if these proposed reforms will be implemented industry-wide. But alarm bells should be ringing. Because the last time we checked – industry regulators are supposed to be impartial. “Patients die because of the adverse impact of commercial interests on the research agenda, universities, and regulators.”