Thirty years later, saying "having academic psychiatrists involved as authors certified the integrity of drug trials" seems bizarre in light of what has happened in between, but I think that’s where we started. So back to the point about research – one of the basic tenets of scientific research is data transparency. There are scientific methods governing to conduct of research studies. The results are the generated data. The surrogate tools of analysis – the graphs, tables, statistics, and narrative – provided in an article are meant to present the information in a usable form, but they aren’t the results, just as book reviews aren’t literature and history books aren’t history. They’re really just opinions. I grew up in medicine trusting in those articles. I think we were all taught how to spot the ones that were off the mark, but they were rare. We counted on the editorial process and peer review to keep our literature honest. There’s no doubt that particularly in the realm of industry funded trials, that has no longer been the case.
In response to the widespread corruption in clinical trial reporting, we’ve begun to demand access to the raw data and have hit a wall, with the pharmaceutical companies claiming the raw data as private property justified by two arguments: that it will breach the subjects’ privacy and that data transparency will reveal trade secrets. The first argument is frivolous. Those of us demanding full access are as committed to confidentiality as any drug company ever was. We are asking for anonymized records exclusively and that’s been made perfectly clear in every request. But ironically, though frivolous, that’s their strong argument.
The second argument – that clinical trial data is proprietary, owned by the sponsors of the studies, and should remain private to protect trade secrets is actually an argument in our favor. We obviously already know what the drugs are and how the study was conducted – the protocol. The published papers have been presented as a true reporting of the outcome data. Those trials that remain unpublished speak to the same point – their absence reports on their negative results as loudly as if they were on the front page of our journals. So there is only one possible trade secret being protected – that the published results are not a true representation of actual results. That’s the only thing we don’t already know. That is both an inadmissible reason for secrecy as well as the major reason we want access to the raw data in the first place. In truth, there is simply no valid argument against data transparency on the table.
Further, back in those ancient times I was talking about [mid-1980s], the pharmaceutical companies gained access to our journals by engaging academicians to author their clinical trials. Those authors would never be allowed to publish research with a claim that their data could remain secret if challenged. No academic department or university would’ve sanctioned that practice, then or now. By gaining access to our scientific journals, the pharmaceutical companies gave up their right to clinical trial secrecy and data ownership a long time ago. There’s something called Data Exclusivity that forbids other manufacturers from using a company’s data in their FDA submissions for a defined period, seen as patent protection. But that’s something else that has nothing to do with Data Transparency as I’m discussing it.
Transparency Interrupted: The Curtailment of the European Medicines Agency’s Policy on Access to Documentsby Peter DoshiJAMA Internal Medicine. Published on-line August 19, 2013.
A colleague and I recently reported on the first 2 years of the European Medicines Agency’s [EMA’s] November 2010 freedom of information policy on access to documents. The policy made a wide range of regulatory documents potentially accessible to anyone who asked for them, including clinical study reports. As of November 19, 2012, the EMA had released approximately 1.66 million pages of clinical trial data and other documents in response to 457 requests.
On April 25, 2013, the General Court of the European Union, in 2 interim decisions, ordered the EMA not to provide documents in response to 3 specific requests. The injunction followed legal action by AbbVie [Wilmington, Delaware] about 2 separate requests for clinical study reports for adalimumab [Humira], a drug for rheumatoid arthritis, and legal action by InterMune [Brisbane, California] about a request for similar documents on pirfenidone [Esbriet], a drug for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Both companies contended that the requested EMA documents contain commercially confidential information. The EMA had planned to provide the documents, consistent with the view that “clinical trial data should not be considered commercial confidential information.” A hearing on the case may not be held until 2014.
On April 30, the EMA responded to the court order by declaring an intention to “continue with its policy to grant access to documents” but that “requests for access to documents similar to those contested by AbbVie and InterMune will be considered on a case-by-case basis.” In addition, the EMA confirmed that it would continue to develop a forthcoming policy on proactive publication of clinical trial data, pending the final decision of the court, and has since released a draft policy for public comment…Before releasing documents about a product, the EMA informs the company and, depending on the specifics of a request, may seek the company’s view regarding the release and possible redactions. As of July 27, 2013, AbbVie and InterMune are the only companies to challenge the release of documents in court. Other companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline and Roche, have recently announced new data transparency policies emphasizing a commitment to transparency.8,9 However, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, the leading trade organizations that represent most major companies, including Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, have filed briefs supporting AbbVie. The views of most companies are unclear. Nonetheless, the curtailment of EMA’s policy on access to documents is a major step backward for the transparency of clinical trials and for public health.