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Drug trials 'skewed by the pharmaeutical industry,' GPs say

Scientists say controversy surrounding the cholesterol-reducing pills has put patients' health at risk

20 JUNE 2017 • 6:01AM

Four in five GPs believe drug trials are skewed by the pharmaeutical industry, amid widespread mistrust in medical research, polling shows.

A report by the Academy of Medical Sciences is calling for an overhaul of patient information following a string of controversies over the risks and benefits of common drugs.

The study found that just one third of the public have confidence in evidence from medical research - compared with two thirds who trust the experiences of their family and friends.

The pharmaecutical industry was particularly mistrusted.

Polling of more than 1,000 GPs found 82 per cent thought clinical trials funded by the sector were often biased to produce a positive outcome. That view was shared by 67 per cent of the public, in a poll of more than 2,000 adults.

The report says patient information leaflets, contained inside pill packets, must be improved so they can be easily read and understood.

The leaflets should also include information on the benefits and risks of taking a drug, and not just an “impetrable” and “unreadable” list of potential harms, authors said.

Professor Sir John Tooke, chairman of the report said the low level of faith in medical research was “startling”.

“While many factors will affect our decision making, we would like robust evidence from scientific research to play a more important role. For this to happen, information from research will need to be more accessible and understandable, as well as reliable and trustworthy in the future,” he said.

The new report was commissioned by Prof Dame Sally Davies, the country’s chief medical officer, following fierce debate about the risks and benefits of a number of drugs - in particular, statins.

In 2014, NHS watchdogs recommended a lowering of the thresholds for the drugs, meaning most men over 60 and women over 65 should be offered them.

That triggered a backlash from doctors who felt too many pills were being doled out, without enough heed to possible side-effects.

Statins

The new study suggests millions of patients could benefit from high doses of statins

Research then suggested “scaremongering” over the drugs led to a fall in the numbers taking the treatment, which could result in more than 2,000 more deaths over the next decade.

The debate came in the wake of a series of controversies and debate about drugs such as hormone replacement therapy and antiviral drug Tamiflu.

The report calls for changes in drug labelling, so benefits are labelled along with risks, and a system of “traffic light” system to endorse the reliability of findings.

Patient information leaflets, found inside the packets of all medicines, were described by the public as being “impenetrable” and “unreadable,” researchers found.

Last year a Telegraph investigation found that some doctors involved in assessing which drugs should be prescribed on the NHS were receiving up to £100,000 per year from pharmaceutical companies.

New NHS conflict of interest rules brought in this year ban NHS staff from accepting gifts worth more than £50. However, proposals to force doctors to declare all private earnings were abandoned.

Dr Sheuli Porkess, head of medical affairs at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said: “All medicines are heavily regulated and robustly assessed for benefits and risks to the highest of international standards. It is an essential step in proving the safety, efficacy and quality of the treatments that pharmaceutical companies discover, develop and make. Much of this work is published in peer reviewed scientific journals.

“Patients, GPs and the public need to have confidence that pharmaceutical industry research is scientifically robust. This report provides fresh impetus for our industry to better communicate the way we conduct research – and share our findings – in a more transparent and understandable way."

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