Clinical trials in jeopardy

Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2003 Feb;41(2):51-5. doi: 10.5414/cpp41051.


Background: The controlled clinical trial, the gold standard for clinical research, is in jeopardy. The pharmaceutical industry is rapidly expanding its command over clinical trials but scientific rigor requires independence and objectivity. Safeguarding such criteria is hard because industrial sponsors, benefit directly from favorable results and are virtually in complete control.

Objective: To review flawed procedures jeopardizing the credibility of trials and to look for possible solutions to the conflict between sponsored industry and scientific independence.

Results: Flawed procedures jeopardizing current clinical trials can be listed as follows. Industries, at least in Europe, are allowed to choose their own independent protocol review board prior for approval. The independent protocol review board approves protocols even when the research is beyond the scope of its expertise. Health institutions hosting multicenter trials are requested to refrain from scientific or ethic assessment of the trial. Trial monitors are often employees of industry. Data control is predominantly in the hands of the sponsor. Interim analyses are rarely performed by independent groups. The scientific committee of the trial consists largely of prominent but otherwise uninvolved physicians attached to the study. The analysis and report of the trial is generally provided by clinical associates of the pharmaceutical companies and, after a brief review, co-signed by prominent physicians attached to the study. POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Possible solutions to the conflict between sponsored industry and scientific independence could include the following. Surveillance by independent observers during each stage of the trial is desirable. In contrast, tight control of study data, analysis, and interpretation by the commercial sponsor is undesirable. If, instead, the pharmaceutical industry allows the profession to more actively participate in different stages of the trial, scientific research will be better served, reasonable biological questions will be better answered, and, because the profession will be more convinced of the objective character of the research, it will not be counterproductive to the sales.

MeSH terms

  • Conflict of Interest
  • Drug Industry*
  • Ethics Committees, Research* / organization & administration
  • Ethics Committees, Research* / standards
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic* / ethics
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic* / trends