Forced Submission to For-Profit Clinical Studies — The Dark New Frontier?

Just read this knock-your-socks-off article in Mother Jones from 2010: “Making a Killing,” by Carl Elliott. My own bias had me focusing on the horror of involuntary psychiatric treatment laws being used to force or coerce people into dangerous clinical drug trials. But by the end of of this article, I was even more disturbed by the even broader, more horrible spectre of universities, and the review boards responsible for protecting patients from dangers in clinical trials, being completely corrupted by drug industry money. Well worth the read.

But what if a research study is not really aimed at producing genuine scientific knowledge at all? The documents emerging in litigation suggest that pharmaceutical companies are designing, analyzing, and publishing trials primarily as a way of positioning their drugs in the marketplace. This raises a question unconsidered in any current code of research ethics. How much risk to human subjects is justified in a study whose principal aim is to “generate commercially attractive messages”?