December 18, 2000
Pharmaceutical industry misuses research results: University of B.C. report
VANCOUVER (CP) - The pharmaceutical industry misuses medical research to the point that people may develop lifelong dependence on drugs with little real benefit, says a new university report. It claims industry manipulation of research results can place patients at risk of dangerous side-effects.
The report from the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, a non-profit health research group at the University of British Columbia, says drug companies artificially create demand for prescription drugs by raising public fear of a disease.
"Under the guise of creating more informed consumers, the drug companies get patients to ask their physicians, 'How come you haven't given me this drug?' " said Kim McGrail, a health researcher who helped edit and compile the report.
For example, industry promotion of cholesterol screening and bone-density testing often leads to patients being put on a course of drug therapy that is often not backed up by research evidence.
McGrail said 80 per cent of new drugs are merely "me-too" drugs - perhaps a new antibiotic or ulcer medication that does the same job as the old one.
"These aren't innovations, but come with an increase in price and an increase in the company's stock value."
The report says the drug industry now dominates Canada's clinical research, skewing results to improve corporate profits rather than patient health.
And it accuses Health Canada of failing to protect the public from drug firms.
Since 1991, the amount of independent pharmaceutical research done at universities has dropped from 80 per cent to 40 per cent. Some 60 per cent of researchers now work under contract to the drug companies.
The report includes a paper by Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards, who quit her Health Canada job in 1996 to speak out about problems with drug approvals.
Brill-Edwards, who said one million Canadians are taking a potentially unsafe drug for angina and high blood pressure, claims Ottawa increasingly evaluates drug risks from the perspective of the manufacturer.
They do so by wanting conclusive proof of harm before taking a drug off the market, she said.
The report also cites the case of Dr. Nancy Olivieri, who was demoted by Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children after publishing findings that a drug she was testing could cause liver damage.
It urges researchers to resist the temptations of drug industry financing that comprises their scientific integrity.
McGrail countered that Health Canada doesn't have the expertise or time to review research properly and that the pharmaceutical industry now controls most research from start to finish.
© The Canadian Press, 2000
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