In an unprecedented display of unison, thirteen of the world’s leading medical journals today join to bite the hand that feeds them - the source of their advertising revenues, the multinational pharmaceutical industry – for allowing the massive profit potential of the new so-called wonder drugs drugs to “corrupt” human clinical trials.

Editorials in all thirteen journals warn that drug companies’ increasing use of contract research organisations (private, non-academic research groups) instead of academic institutions could be compromising the results of drug trials because the former are “cheaper” and “less independent”. During 2000, allege the journals, some sixty per cent of all US drug research grants went to contract research organisations (CROs).

Leading the prosecution are such globally respected titles as the Journal of the American Medical Association, Britain's The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine. They are supported by other major medical publications in Australia, Canada, Denmark, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and the USA.

In particular, the journals are concerned that the objectivity of scientists employed by CROs is compromised by the substantial sums paid to CROs - with consequent risk to patients. These commercial organisations fail to provide sufficient oversight of clinical trials, allege the common editorials, whereby "the results of the finished trial may be buried rather than published if they are unfavourable to the sponsor's product”.

The journals point to recent court cases against US pharma giants such as American Home Products and Pfizer, as well as Anglo-US group GlaxoSmithKline and Germany’s Bayer – all of whom are currently facing legal actions and widespread criticism regarding the alleged side effects of new drugs. AMP has recently set aside a staggering $12 billion-plus to cover such charges.

The journals’ action follows an exhortation earlier this year by the American Medical Association. This urged universities and hospitals to require researchers to disclose fully any financial interest they might have in products undergoing clinical trials.

For their own part, the thirteen titles jointly undertake to raise standards for the publication of research and will in future require all authors and participants in the review process to reveal all possible conflicts of interest.

News source: Financial Times