When a sponsor funds a study of two competing drugs in a head-to-head comparison, the results and conclusions are likely to favor the sponsor’s drug. Thiazolidinediones, oral medications used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, are one of the most costly choices of oral anti-diabetic medications, yet they do not demonstrate clinically relevant differences in achieving lower glycosylated hemoglobin levels compared to other oral antidiabetic drugs. Our aim is to examine associations between research funding source, study design characteristics aimed at reducing bias, and other factors with the results and conclusions of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of thiazolidinediones compared to other oral hypoglycemic agents.
Methods and Findings
This is a cross-sectional study of 61 published RCTs comparing a thiazolidinedione (glitazone) to another anti-diabetic drug or placebo for treatment of type 2 diabetes. Data on study design characteristics, funding source, author’s financial ties, results for primary outcomes, and author conclusions were extracted. Univariate logistic regression identified associations between independent variables and results and conclusions that favored the glitazone. Of the RCTs, 59% (36/61) were funded by industry, 39% (24/61) did not disclose any funding. Common study design weaknesses included inadequate blinding and lack of concealment of allocation. Trials that reported favorable glycemic control results for the glitazone were more likely to have adequate blinding (OR (95% CI) =5.42 (1.46, 21.19), p=0.008) and have a corresponding author with financial ties to the glitazone manufacturer (OR (95% CI) =4.12 (1.05, 19.53); p=0.04). Trials with conclusions favoring the glitazone were less likely to be funded by a comparator drug company than a glitazone company (OR (95% CI) =0.026 (0, 0.40), p=0.003) and less likely to be published in journals with higher impact factors (OR (95% CI) =0.79 (0.62, 0.97), p=0.011). One limitation of our study is that we categorized studies as funded by industry based on each article’s disclosure which could underestimate the number of industry sponsored studies and personal ties of investigators. Additionally, our study did not include any head-to-head comparisons of one glitazone to another.
Published RCT comparisons of glitazones with other anti-diabetic drugs or placebo are predominantly industry supported and this support, as well as the financial ties of study authors, appears to be associated with favorable findings.