Drug studies often biased, York professor finds

Information that doctors need about new drugs is often biased because it depends heavily on research by the drugs’ own manufacturers. This opinion was expressed by Dr. Joel Lexchin, a professor with York University’s Atkinson School of Health Policy & Management, to the CanWest News Service for a story about his research published Dec. 2 in The Ottawa Citizen and the National Post. Lexchin, who is also an emergency physician at a Toronto hospital, said his analysis of drug reviews from the past 20 years shows “systematic bias” in many of these reviews, which are meant to give objective information to doctors who prescribe medicine. In a recent article in the British Medical Journal, Dr. Lexchin said, “clinical research sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry affects how doctors practise medicine.”

Industry-sponsored studies that are publicly reported “always found outcomes favourable to the sponsoring company.” Lexchin said this is true “across a wide range of disease states, drugs and drug classes” over 20 years. The studies included drugs for arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, myeloma, psychiatric problems, depression and blood clots, as well as birth control pills and corticosteroids. Another British Medical Journal article last May concluded that research sponsored by drug companies tends to be reported publicly only if it’s good news for the company, a practice known as “publication bias.”

Carlsberg years are over – for now

Carlsberg and Labatt are ending a 15-year deal that saw the Canadian brewery manufacture, market and distribute Carlsberg beer under licence, reported Canadian Press Dec. 2. Marketing expert Alan Middleton said he’s not surprised by the parting of Labatt and Carlsberg, which both companies described as amicable. “From Labatt’s point of view, what would you rather push? A beer in which you get 100 per cent of the revenue or a licensee of which you get only a part?” asked Middleton, a professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. He noted that advertising for Carlsberg has tailed off since the last campaign pitched the brand to 30-somethings in their “Carlsberg years”. “When the consumer doesn’t see many ads around, they assume a beer’s not popular anymore and they stop drinking it,” said Middleton.

SARS media coverage

A York University study of major media coverage of the  SARS epidemic was cited in a Winnipeg Free Press story Dec. 2 about the development of a vaccine. Daniel Drache, associate director of York’s Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies – who conducted the study with the centre’s director, Seth Feldman – said major Toronto papers were running more than 20 stories each a day. However, as time wore on, Drache said, the coverage shifted from health-related issues to the economic impact the disease was having in areas like tourism.

On air

  • Matt Galloway included the Art Gallery of York University’s exhibition, What It Feels Like for a Girl, in a preview of the week’s events on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” Dec. 1.