Editors at leading medical journals have co-produced research claiming that rivals have been publishing drug trials that may be little more than marketing by pharmaceutical firms.
The editor in chief of the British Medical Journal and a former editor of PLOS Medicine are co-authors of a new paper that argues that a substantial minority of papers in The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine are suspected "marketing trials" designed to promote a new drug.
Six members of the study team looked at 194 drug trials published in five medical journals in 2011 and independently assessed whether they thought they might have been designed for marketing purposes. Where four or more agreed, the trial was categorized as suspected marketing.
More than a fifth of the trials (41 in total) were assessed as suspected marketing, and all but two of these came from The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine.
At the former, almost a third of trials were thought to be marketing, and 23 percent at the latter. A further 7 percent of all trials were considered possible, but not definite, marketing.
All the suspected marketing studies were funded by the drug manufacturer, the analysis found. In the vast majority of cases the company was involved in the study design and the reporting of results, and in the majority of cases also had control over data analysis.
In addition, the suspected marketing studies tested drugs on patients from an average of 171 different geographical areas, compared with 13 for the trials deemed not to be marketing, according to "Characterization of trials where marketing purposes have been influential in study design: a descriptive study," published in BioMed Central.
Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the BMJ and co-author of the paper, said that this might be because manufacturers wanted to expose as many doctors to their drugs as possible, in the hope that they would continue prescribing them even after the trial ended.