THE BLOG

Skeletons in the Cupboard: Open the Door on Hidden Clinical Trials

20/05/2014 12:24 BST | Updated 18/07/2014 10:59 BST

Last year I put my house on the market. Mostly, I'm too busy to notice the clutter and untidiness that accompanies the life of a lone mum working full time, but I guessed the prospective viewers might.

In a couple of hours, I had filled the car with toys and the three foot ironing monster. I'd piled the paperwork into the airing cupboard, filled under the stairs with shoes and coats until I needed to use my shoulder to shut the door, and even painted the watermarks on my bedroom ceiling. They might not notice the leaky roof.

I then bought fresh flowers, baked bread, brewed coffee, the usual clichés. The house looked amazing for once.

I just REALLY hoped they wouldn't open any cupboards.

This is just what you do when you are selling something, isn't it? Put your best foot forward and all that. No harm done.

But it struck me when I heard about what happens in the pharmaceutical industry that they were hiding their crap away too, just like me. Legally and frequently.

That can't happen, I hear you say. Don't they have tight regulation for all that pharmaceutical stuff? They wouldn't be allowed to hide anything. This is about people's LIVES, not leaky roof tiles.

WRONG. This is pretty much how it happens. About HALF of all clinical trials don't get published, and the unfavourable results are twice as likely to be hidden. Under the carpet, stuffed in a cupboard. Some don't even get registered. We are talking thousands of trials, with hundreds of thousands of real people affected.

It's all very complicated, but because unfavourable trials are hidden, in systematic reviews it is hard to pick up problems.

£473 MILLION POUNDS of UK public money was wasted on Tamiflu alone after it was found to not be as effective as first thought. The reason: hidden trial data.

Money down the drain is not the most horrific side of this. Many DEATHS have occurred. In the 1980s, 100,000 people died unnecessarily after being prescribed anti-arrhythmic drugs post heart attack. A small, unpublished trial in 1980 of an abandoned drug could have saved these lives if it was made available. There are countless other examples.

Is this all a 'Big Pharma' conspiracy to kill us and fleece governments to make a quick buck?

No, I don't think so. Many of them are perfectly nice people as individuals. I've even recruited a few in my career. It's just what they do, the way the system works. And it needs to change.

"Medicine is broken", as Dr. Ben Goldacre writes in his excellent book, Bad Pharma.

"Companies run biased trials on their own drugs, which distort and exaggerate the results. Unflattering data is simply buried. Government regulators withhold vitally important information. Seemingly independent doctor and patient groups are funded by the industry, in a world so cracked that medics and nurses are now educated by the drugs industry. The result of all this is inevitable: patients are harmed, unnecessarily, in huge numbers."

What can YOU do to change this? It's simple, and will only take you a minute.

Please sign the petition on All Trials to call on governments, regulators and research bodies to implement measures to register ALL TRIALS past and present - and with the full methods and results reported. The campaign is gaining traction - just the other day pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim has pledged to register all clinical trials dating back to 1998.

We can all make a massive difference - improve everyone's health and get better, safer medicine for all. Sign, share, tweet, use the #AllTrials. Let's get to 100,000 signatures for International Clinical Trials Day this Tuesday, May 20th.

You really wouldn't want to look in my cupboards. But let's all have a look in the world's medicine cabinet, and make sure we don't put any more skeletons in there.