By me in the BMJ: the dodginess of drug company trials

December 1st, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, big pharma, hiding data, regulating research, statistics, subgroup analysis, systematic reviews, trial registers | 73 Comments »

Here’s a piece by me in the British Medical Journal this week, published online already, and in the print edition this Friday. It’s a head to head with Vincent Lawton, who until recently was head of Merck in the UK. Briefly, I set out the quantitative evidence demonstrating the scale of the problem, and he says: “oh, we’ve fixed everything now, and anyway some academic trials are dodgy too, here’s one what I found”. That’s a paraphrase, you can read his response for free on the BMJ website here, since they’ve decided that this is an important issue which deserves open access. If you’ve got something really clever to say about these pieces then you might also want to comment in the “Rabid Response” section of the BMJ version of either article.

We were going to have a debate on the Today programme on Monday morning, and then tomorrow morning, but unfortunately it’s been ditched. If you work in mainstream media and would like to cover this issue I’m always keen, and amazingly easy to get hold of, Although I realise that your idea of a meaningful critique of the crimes of big pharma is “chemotherapy hurt my grandma that’s why I love vitamin pills and hate teh vaxxines lol freedom”. Read the rest of this entry »

How do the world’s biggest drug companies compare, in their transparency commitments?

July 27th, 2017 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | No Comments »

Here’s a paper, and associated website, that we launch today: we have assessed, and then ranked, all the biggest drug companies in the world, to compare their public commitments on trials transparency. Regular readers will be familiar with this ongoing battle. In medicine we use the results of clinical trials to make informed treatments about which treatments work best; but the results of clinical trials are being routinely and legally withheld from doctors, researchers, and patients. This is a problem for industry sponsored trials, and for trials funded by governments and charities.

So what did we find? The results on the individual companies are important, but we also came across some fascinating patterns. While companies superficially have commitments to register and report clinical trials, in reality, there are often huge gaps in their policies, with many failing to include past trials (trials on the medicines we use today) and trials on off-label uses or unlicensed medicines, which are both important. We also found a huge range of commitments, which is exactly what audits are good for: identify who’s doing well, and who’s doing badly, so that everyone can learn from the best players. Lastly, as we went along we collected some fascinating examples of problematic policies, ambiguous language, inconsistent commitments, odd exclusions, and so on.

Overall this audit was a huge project, and we hope it will be widely used. You can see which companies are the best, and the worst. If you’re a researcher trying to get information on a trial from a company, you can use this to determine whether a company are breaching their commitments. If you’re an ethical investor (at the AllTrials campaign we have a network of dozens, covering €3.5t trillion of investments) you can use this to guide your activist investment choices. 

The full methods and results can be read, for free, in the paper. But we’ve also built a nice interactive website with mySociety (coming soon) to make the data more accessible. We think this is an important aspect of communicating results and making them useful, and used, and we’re keen for feedback on the site.

Coming next, we have ranked the policies of non-industry trial funders, and that paper will land shortly. We also have some great new and improved projects launching soon where we track the performance of institutions, rather than their promises: the proportion of their completed trials for which they have shared results. Meanwhile, you can read more about the battle for unreported clinical trials at


The Cancer Drugs Fund is producing dangerous, bad data: randomise everyone, everywhere!

September 28th, 2016 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 6 Comments »

There are recurring howls in my work. One of them is this: in general, if you don’t know which intervention works best, then you should randomise everyone, everywhere. This is for good reason: uncertainty costs lives, through sub-optimal treatment. Wherever randomised trials are the right approach, you should embed them in routine clinical care.

This is an argument I’ve made, with colleagues, in endless different places. New diabetes drugs are approved with woeful data, small numbers of patients in trials that only measure blood tests, rather than real-world outcomes such as heart attack, renal failure, or death: so let’s roll out new diabetes treatments in the NHS through randomised trials. We rely on observational studies to establish whether Tamiflu reduces complications of pneumonia: that’s silly, we can do trials, and we should. Statin treatment regimes in widespread use have never been compared head-to-head, using real-world outcomes such as heart attack, stroke, and death: so let’s embed randomised trials as cheaply as possible in routine clinical care (we’ve done two pilots, to document the barriers).

This week a dozen colleagues and I published yet another application of this basic, simple principle, as an editorial in the BMJ. The Cancer Drugs Fund is being marketed as a way to generate new knowledge: but in reality, the data that will be collected is weak, Read the rest of this entry »

Statins have no side effects? What our study really found, its fixable flaws, and why trials transparency matters (again).

March 13th, 2014 by Ben Goldacre in alltrials campaign, bad science, placebo | 23 Comments »

telesillyHi there, sorry to be absent (dayjob!). I was surprised to see a study I’m a co-author on getting some front page media play today, under the headline “Statins ‘have no side effects'”. That’s not what our paper found. But it was an interesting piece of work, with an odd result, looking at side effects in randomised trials of statins: specifically, and unusually, it compares the reports of side effects among people on statins in trials, against the reports of side effects from trial participants who were only getting a dummy placebo sugar pill.  Read the rest of this entry »

I’m on the One Show talking about missing trials tonight

March 18th, 2013 by Ben Goldacre in alltrials campaign, publication bias | 2 Comments »

I made a film for The One Show on BBC1, which goes out tonight. It’s about “publication bias“: the problem of clinical trial results being withheld from doctors and patients. (I also get to go into an awesome underground bunker where documents are stored…).

You can watch it here:

Read the rest of this entry »

80 patient groups (eighty!) sign up to in one go! Then Cancer Research UK!

February 15th, 2013 by Ben Goldacre in alltrials campaign | 1 Comment »

We rely on clinical trials in medicine, but companies and researchers are able to withhold results wherever it suits them: this breaks evidence based medicine. The best available systematic review evidence estimates that around half of all trials for the treatments we use today have not been published: you can read the details on this problem, and the flawed efforts to remedy it, here.

We decided that something needed to be done, and so we set up, with Sense About Science, the BMJ, Sir Iain Chalmers (co-founder of Cochrane) and the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine in Oxford. Since then the campaign has snowballed. We have been joined by groups as diverse as MRC, the Wellcome Trust, IQWiG (the German NICE), NPA (the US doctors body) and many more. Read the rest of this entry »

This is excellent, and amazing. GSK have just signed up to

February 5th, 2013 by Ben Goldacre in alltrials campaign, bad science | 5 Comments »

GSK have just this minute announced that they are signing up to the campaign.

This will be written in a hurry. Briefly: the results of clinical trials have been routinely withheld from doctors and patients throughout medicine, and this problem has not been fixed. The campaign is asking for all trials to be registered, for all summary results to be reported, and for full Clinical Study Reports to be made publicly available. CSRs are important, because it is now clear that brief summaries about trials (such as academic journal articles) can be incomplete or misleading. Last Friday I met with Andrew Witty, the head of GSK, to discuss these concerns, and it was clear that they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these issues.

I couldn’t be any happier. This is huge, and internationally huge. GSK have made a commitment to post CSRs online. Read the rest of this entry »

EU lead on clinical trials comes out in favour of transparency. Hurrah!

February 4th, 2013 by Ben Goldacre in alltrials campaign, publication bias | No Comments »

There is a new EU Clinical Trials Regulation currently passing through parliament in Brussels. It is currently in draft form, and riddled with holes: essentially it allows companies and researchers to withhold trial results, and play fast and loose with analyses. These problems are best documented in the BMJ by one of the co-founders of Cochrane: 

The EU lead legislator (or “rapporteur”) on this bill is Glenis Willmott. She is a Labour MEP from the UK, and well-known to those in public health for her battles with the tobacco industry in Europe. Patients around the world are very fortunate that she has been chosen for this positon on clinical trials, and I am very pleased to say that her office have just this afternoon issued a press release on trials transparency. It is very clear that she will be working hard to fix this broken legislation, and her initial report on the draft Regulation demonstrates a clear recognition of problems that have been neglected for too long.  Read the rest of this entry »

AllTrials campaign launches, please sign and spread!

January 16th, 2013 by Ben Goldacre in alltrials campaign, big pharma, publication bias | 2 Comments »

I am very pleased to announce the launch of a prominent campaign for access to all trial results, which we have launched this week at, with myself, Sense About Science, Sir Iain Chalmers from the James Lind Initiative (previously co-founder of Cochrane), Dr Fiona Godlee (Editor in Chief of the BMJ), and Dr Carl Heneghan (Director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford).

The response so far, in a very short period of time, has been phenomenal. We have collected over 7,000 signatures already, simply from tweeting, and several extremely high profile organisations have signed up already, including: Read the rest of this entry »

MPs write to Public Accounts Committee to request action on hidden trials and Tamiflu.

December 14th, 2012 by Ben Goldacre in ABPI, alltrials campaign | 8 Comments »

The letter below has been sent to Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, asking her to take action on the ongoing problem of hidden trials, and specifically Tamiflu.

The very notion that we spent £500 million on Tamiflu – with information about over half of the clinical trials still being withheld – is nothing short of absurd. For context, £500 million is 5% of the total NHS drugs budget (£10 billion) for one year. This ongoing issue of secrecy around clinical trials wastes money and harms patients, and it has persisted for several reasons. Read the rest of this entry »