The NYT published an article about drug trials and the underreporting of negative and equivocal study results to the FDA and peer-approved journals, data which factors significantly into the FDA’s assessment of where a proposed drug falls along the risk/benefit spectrum. To me, it’s no surprise. Despite cladding their studies in impenetrable jargon and cloaking their data in statistical regressions so complicated that you need a new eyeglass prescription to parse the numbers, scientists are human. They need funding. Announcing some big positive find or advance is likely to be more reputation-making than another criticism without a solution. And drug companies have an obvious incentive to bury the data– if not out of conscious greed and malicious disregard for the health of drug consumers, than out of wishful thinking and the manipulation of study results and monday-morning quarterbacking of the factors underlying the negative study and its results. Drugs are big money. I just wish I didn’t need mine so much.
Finally, the sad facts are this: the FDA, like any other government agency, is underfunded and understaffed, relative to the importance of its regulatory mission. They rely on the drug companies to be honest and to disclose good and bad information. That alone, not accounting for a revolving door of researchers, study project managers and administrators between drug companies, the FDA, private and university labs, and medical practice, is enough to warrant my vigilance about the drugs that I take. I don’t necessarily think all drug companies are evil, or that every FDA researcher is negligent or corrupt. But I do think some of them are, and the rest are only human. So I’ll continue to be the geek who reads the entire set of warnings with each new prescription, and who re-reads them every time she gets a new pill to add to the older ones. And I’ll continue to be the geek who scans the Health and Science sections of the paper every Tuesday, even though I’d rather not worry about it. But rather doesn’t enter into it.