Category Archives: data sharing

BMJ: Clinical trial data for all drugs in current use must be available for independent scrutiny

In an impassioned editorial, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee calls on the pharmaceutical industry to release clinical trial data on all approved drugs, and on medical journals to publish industry-funded trials only when there is a commitment to make patient-level data available on reasonable request.  She states that the BMJ will require this commitment for all clinical trials of drugs and devices, whether industry-funded or not, beginning in January 2013.  In addition, BMJ is publishing online all correspondence between Roche and the Cochrane Collaboration researchers regarding the oseltamivir (Tamiflu) data.  More on the battle for Tamiflu data here.

Addendum 11/2/2012:  read Pharmalot’s coverage here.

BMJ editor: Open letter to Roche about oseltamivir trial data


Roche promised in 2009 to release full reports from clinical trials of oseltamivir in response to an investigation by the BMJ and the Cochrane Collaboration.  In this open letter to John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and a Roche board member, the BMJ’s editor in chief further urges the company to disclose the full data.

Read the full letter here.

Background here.

Ben Goldacre on missing data and publication bias

Ben Goldacre at Strata Conference

Here is a video of Ben Goldacre speaking at the Strata Conference in London earlier this month (H/T Chris Southan).

I also recommend his book, Bad Pharma:  How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients, which goes into detail on how missing data and publication bias distort the medical literature and harm patients.


More commentaries on data sharing

In the May 2012 issue of The Scientist, Data Diving:  What lies untapped beneath the surface of published clinical trial analyses could rock the world of independent review.  Discusses the problem of missing data and how it affects the reliability of systematic reviews.

On the Scientific American website, a guest post by cardiologist and researcher Jalees Rehman, Open Science and Access to Medical Research.  Rehman discusses the special challenges of sharing clinical research, including the need to maintain patient confidentiality and the need for independent institutions to interpret the data in an unbiased manner so that vulnerable patients are not misled or given false hope.

In the November 21, 2011 issue of the Medical Journal of Australia, Time to mandate data release and independent audits for all clinical trials, by Ian Haines and George Gabor Miklos.  Here are the last two paragraphs:

Medical journals and their editors have a choice — to be viewed as “an extension of the marketing arm of pharmaceutical companies,” or to be beacons of transparent data processes that inform clinicians, improve patient treatment, and provide high standards on which governments, health care providers and patients can have confidence.

Medical journals should demonstrate strong leadership by mandating open access to detailed clinical trial protocols and de-identified raw study data.  They should insist on independent audits of data, concomitant publication of an “accompanying abstract,” and lodgement of the data in independent databases; these three actions should be a precondition for publication.  (citations omitted)

Finally, in Science Translational Medicine, Learning from Hackers:  Open-Source Clinical Trials, by Adam Dunn, Richard Day, Kenneth Mandl and Enrico Coiera.  Behind a paywall, but here’s a news article in Australian Life Scientist and a post on Dunn’s blog.

See my previous posts on data sharing here and here.

More on the need for data sharing — the Tamiflu example

See my previous post on the need for data sharing.  For the past three years, a group of researchers has been trying to gather all of the clinical trial data for the anti-influenza drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir), without success.  As a result there is continuing uncertainty about the benefits — and harms — of the drug.  They tell their story in a New York Times op-ed and an article in PLoS Medicine.  Here is the summary from the PLoS Medicine article:

  • Systematic reviews of published randomized clinical trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard source of synthesized evidence for interventions, but their conclusions are vulnerable to distortion when trial sponsors have strong interests that might benefit from suppressing or promoting selected data.
  • More reliable evidence synthesis would result from systematic reviewing of clinical study reports—standardized documents representing the most complete record of the planning, execution, and results of clinical trials, which are submitted by industry to government drug regulators.
  • Unfortunately, industry and regulators have historically treated clinical study reports as confidential documents, impeding additional scrutiny by independent researchers.
  • We propose clinical study reports become available to such scrutiny, and describe one manufacturer’s unconvincing reasons for refusing to provide us access to full clinical study reports. We challenge industry to either provide open access to clinical study reports or publically defend their current position of RCT data secrecy.

Also in PLoS Medicine, a response by a group of European drug regulators.  The regulators agree that that data secrecy is no longer acceptable but list some reasons for caution.

Peter Doshi and Tom Jefferson, “Drug Data Shouldn’t Be Secret,” New York Times, April 10, 2012.

Doshi P, Jefferson T, Del Mar C (2012) The Imperative to Share Clinical Study Reports: Recommendations from the Tamiflu Experience. PLoS Med 9(4): e1001201. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001201

Eichler H-G, Abadie E, Breckenridge A, Leufkens H, Rasi G (2012) Open Clinical Trial Data for All? A View from Regulators. PLoS Med 9(4): e1001202. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001202

Here is a summary from Pharmalot.

Data sharing as a moral imperative

In the USA at least, the data legally belong to trialists on the grounds that it requires work to create knowledge from data. But science, particularly medical science, is essentially an enterprise conducted for moral reasons. We need to do not just what is legal but what is right. As such, we must take into account the probable wishes of the patients who give us their blood, fill in our questionnaires and die on our trials. It is difficult to believe that any patient on my trial, who completed complex questionnaires so diligently over such a long period of time, would really have wanted me to keep the data for myself rather than share it with others for the benefit of medical science in general.  Vickers AJ.  Whose data set is it anyway?  Sharing raw data from randomized trials.  Trials.  2006;7:15.

Every day, patients and their caregivers are faced with difficult decisions about treatment. They turn to physicians and other healthcare professionals to interpret the medical evidence and assist them in making individualized decisions.  Unfortunately, we are learning that what is published in the medical literature represents only a portion of the evidence that is relevant to the risks and benefits of available treatments. In a profession that seeks to rely on evidence, it is ironic that we tolerate a system that enables evidence to be outside of public view.  Krumholz HM. Open Science and Data Sharing in Clinical Research: Basing Informed Decisions on the Totality of the Evidence. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 2012;5: 141-142

We are all patients, and will all face questions about what medical treatments to pursue.  Some questions are trivial and unimportant, others can mean the difference between life and death.  We rely on evidence-based medicine to give us reliable information about the risks and benefits associated with medical interventions, but a disturbing amount of evidence indicates that the medical literature is not always reliable.  Many clinical trials are not published within a reasonable time after completion or are never published at all.  Missing data leads to systematic reviews that are based on only a portion of the trials that were conducted, which can affect the results in unknown and unpredictable ways.  Missing data may in some cases hold important information about risk, as in the case of Vioxx (rofecoxib).  Merck had data several years before Vioxx was withdrawn from the market that showed the drug increased the risk of heart attacks, but most of the data was unpublished and out of public view.  In other cases, clinical trials are published but the data are reported in a misleading and biased way, as when a negative trial is presented so as to appear positive, or analyses showing harm are omitted.

What is to be done?  What can we do to make evidence-based medicine more evidence-based?  Four commentaries in the March 2012 issue of Circulation:  Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes discuss how making clinical research data available outside individual drug and device companies or research groups could greatly add to the depth and reliability of our knowledge.  Currently, with certain exceptions, access to most clinical trial data is restricted to the investigators or the funders.  Harlan Krumholz, in an editor’s perspective, outlines the key concepts:

Now is the time to bring data sharing and open science into the mainstream of clinical research, particularly with respect to trials that contain information about the risks and benefits of treatments in current use. This could be accomplished through the following steps:

    1. Post, in the public domain, the study protocol for each published trial. The protocol should be comprehensive and include policies and procedures relevant to actions taken in the trial.

    2. Develop mechanisms for those who own trial data to share their raw data and individual patient data.

    3. Encourage industry to commit to place all its clinical research data relevant to approved products in the public domain. This action would acknowledge that the privilege of selling products is accompanied by a responsibility to share all the clinical research data relevant to the products’ benefits and harms.

    4. Develop a culture within academics that values data sharing and open science. After a period in which the original investigators can complete their funded studies, the data should be de-identified and made available for investigators globally.

    5. Identify, within all systematic reviews, trials that are not published, using sources such as and regulatory postings to determine what is missing.

    6. Share data.

It must be acknowledged that there are many obstacles — political, cultural, financial — to accomplishing these goals.  Some of these obstacles are discussed in the other three commentaries, which are open access and which I urge you to read:

Spertus, JA.  The Double-Edged Sword of Open Access to Research Data.  Circulation:  Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.  2012;5;143-144.

Ross JS, Lehman R, Gross CP.  The Importance of Clinical Trial Data Sharing:  Toward More Open Science.  Circulation:  Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.  2012;5;238-240.

Gotzsche PC.  Strengthening and Opening Up Health Research by Sharing Our Raw Data.  Circulation:  Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.  2012;5;236-237.

Whatever the difficulties, the current situation is clearly intolerable.  Patients deserve reliable information on the risks and benefits of medical treatments and the subjects of clinical trials deserve that their contributions be fully used to benefit other patients.

Addendum March 26, 2012:  Please also see these posts by Jim Murray and Gary Schwitzer.


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