Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Ben ‘Bad Pharma’ Goldacre’s talk at Kings College London organized by Soho Skeptics. Polly Mortimer

Like a thunderclap Ben Goldacre rushed in claiming that a very localized snowstorm had made him late… Through a mouthful of flapjack, he blasted into his talk on the mechanics and manipulations of drug trials.

Corralling the many ways of misrepresentation and inherent danger that lies witin the world of Big Pharma (giant pharmaceutical companies) – withholding trials, conducting the wrong sort of trials and disseminating the information in a flawed manner (through publication bias) – he led us to the Cochrane Collaboration, which meta-analyses trials.  He drew out some trials of an antidepressant (‘none work well – there are cultural and social reasons why we prescribe them’) and illustrated the deceitfulness of the marketing in misleading people about the relative benefits of the drug. His ferreting has led him to conclude that 50% of results are never published – and PDFs with the data are impossible to search.

None of the Royal Colleges are taking a stand on this, though the European Medicines Agency is becoming a little more transparent.

He cited GSK which was fined $3 billion for hiding data about the fact that paroxetine was killing children. But they are not sharing their data yet.

Patients’ interests are not at heart and there is a lack of ownership and leadership.  He finally went to see the Prime Minister to harass the government on this topic. 

Even the patients’ groups are Drug Company funded – causing a conflict of interest. They take no action – but that is hardly surprising! He didn’t seem to blame them for this. Of course they are not going to mess with their funders.
Finally he stressed that the medical profession fails to engage and there are no challenges to it. 

It was quite a tumble drier of a talk – and left me wanting to read the book in a quieter place. And also to compare it with the eminent David Healy’s book, Pharmageddon.  But I do feel that Ben Goldacre’s heart is in the right place, and I look forward to investigating his concerning claims further.

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