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1.  Misrepresentation of Randomized Controlled Trials in Press Releases and News Coverage: A Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(9):e1001308.
A study conducted by Amélie Yavchitz and colleagues examines the factors associated with “spin” (specific reporting strategies, intentional or unintentional, that emphasize the beneficial effect of treatments) in press releases of clinical trials.
Background
Previous studies indicate that in published reports, trial results can be distorted by the use of “spin” (specific reporting strategies, intentional or unintentional, emphasizing the beneficial effect of the experimental treatment). We aimed to (1) evaluate the presence of “spin” in press releases and associated media coverage; and (2) evaluate whether findings of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) based on press releases and media coverage are misinterpreted.
Methods and Findings
We systematically searched for all press releases indexed in the EurekAlert! database between December 2009 and March 2010. Of the 498 press releases retrieved and screened, we included press releases for all two-arm, parallel-group RCTs (n = 70). We obtained a copy of the scientific article to which the press release related and we systematically searched for related news items using Lexis Nexis.
“Spin,” defined as specific reporting strategies (intentional or unintentional) emphasizing the beneficial effect of the experimental treatment, was identified in 28 (40%) scientific article abstract conclusions and in 33 (47%) press releases. From bivariate and multivariable analysis assessing the journal type, funding source, sample size, type of treatment (drug or other), results of the primary outcomes (all nonstatistically significant versus other), author of the press release, and the presence of “spin” in the abstract conclusion, the only factor associated, with “spin” in the press release was “spin” in the article abstract conclusions (relative risk [RR] 5.6, [95% CI 2.8–11.1], p<0.001). Findings of RCTs based on press releases were overestimated for 19 (27%) reports. News items were identified for 41 RCTs; 21 (51%) were reported with “spin,” mainly the same type of “spin” as those identified in the press release and article abstract conclusion. Findings of RCTs based on the news item was overestimated for ten (24%) reports.
Conclusion
“Spin” was identified in about half of press releases and media coverage. In multivariable analysis, the main factor associated with “spin” in press releases was the presence of “spin” in the article abstract conclusion.
Editors' Summary
Background
The mass media play an important role in disseminating the results of medical research. Every day, news items in newspapers and magazines and on the television, radio, and internet provide the general public with information about the latest clinical studies. Such news items are written by journalists and are often based on information in “press releases.” These short communications, which are posted on online databases such as EurekAlert! and sent directly to journalists, are prepared by researchers or more often by the drug companies, funding bodies, or institutions supporting the clinical research and are designed to attract favorable media attention to newly published research results. Press releases provide journalists with the information they need to develop and publish a news story, including a link to the peer-reviewed journal (a scholarly periodical containing articles that have been judged by independent experts) in which the research results appear.
Why Was This Study Done?
In an ideal world, journal articles, press releases, and news stories would all accurately reflect the results of health research. Unfortunately, the findings of randomized controlled trials (RCTs—studies that compare the outcomes of patients randomly assigned to receive alternative interventions), which are the best way to evaluate new treatments, are sometimes distorted in peer-reviewed journals by the use of “spin”—reporting that emphasizes the beneficial effects of the experimental (new) treatment. For example, a journal article may interpret nonstatistically significant differences as showing the equivalence of two treatments although such results actually indicate a lack of evidence for the superiority of either treatment. “Spin” can distort the transposition of research into clinical practice and, when reproduced in the mass media, it can give patients unrealistic expectations about new treatments. It is important, therefore, to know where “spin” occurs and to understand the effects of that “spin”. In this study, the researchers evaluate the presence of “spin” in press releases and associated media coverage and analyze whether the interpretation of RCT results based on press releases and associated news items could lead to the misinterpretation of RCT results.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 70 press releases indexed in EurekAlert! over a 4-month period that described two-arm, parallel-group RCTs. They used Lexis Nexis, a database of news reports from around the world, to identify associated news items for 41 of these press releases and then analyzed the press releases, news items, and abstracts of the scientific articles related to each press release for “spin”. Finally, they interpreted the results of the RCTs using each source of information independently. Nearly half the press releases and article abstract conclusions contained “spin” and, importantly, “spin” in the press releases was associated with “spin” in the article abstracts. The researchers overestimated the benefits of the experimental treatment from the press release as compared to the full-text peer-reviewed article for 27% of reports. Factors that were associated with this overestimation of treatment benefits included publication in a specialized journal and having “spin” in the press release. Of the news items related to press releases, half contained “spin”, usually of the same type as identified in the press release and article abstract. Finally, the researchers overestimated the benefit of the experimental treatment from the news item as compared to the full-text peer-reviewed article in 24% of cases.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that “spin” in press releases and news reports is related to the presence of “spin” in the abstract of peer-reviewed reports of RCTs and suggest that the interpretation of RCT results based solely on press releases or media coverage could distort the interpretation of research findings in a way that favors experimental treatments. This interpretation shift is probably related to the presence of “spin” in peer-reviewed article abstracts, press releases, and news items and may be partly responsible for a mismatch between the perceived and real beneficial effects of new treatments among the general public. Overall, these findings highlight the important role that journal reviewers and editors play in disseminating research findings. These individuals, the researchers conclude, have a responsibility to ensure that the conclusions reported in the abstracts of peer-reviewed articles are appropriate and do not over-interpret the results of clinical research.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001308.
The PLOS Hub for Clinical Trials, which collects PLOS journals relating to clinical trials, includes some other articles on “spin” in clinical trial reports
EurekAlert is an online free database for science press releases
The UK National Health Service Choices website includes Beyond the Headlines, a resource that provides an unbiased and evidence-based analysis of health stories that make the news for both the public and health professionals
The US-based organization HealthNewsReview, a project supported by the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, also provides expert reviews of news stories
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001308
PMCID: PMC3439420  PMID: 22984354
2.  Ocular gene transfer in the spotlight: implications of newspaper content for clinical communications 
BMC Medical Ethics  2014;15:58.
Background
Ocular gene transfer clinical trials are raising hopes for blindness treatments and attracting media attention. News media provide an accessible health information source for patients and the public, but are often criticized for overemphasizing benefits and underplaying risks of novel biomedical interventions. Overly optimistic portrayals of unproven interventions may influence public and patient expectations; the latter may cause patients to downplay risks and over-emphasize benefits, with implications for informed consent for clinical trials. We analyze the news media communications landscape about ocular gene transfer and make recommendations for improving communications between clinicians and potential trial participants in light of media coverage.
Methods
We analyzed leading newspaper articles about ocular gene transfer (1990-2012) from United States (n = 55), Canada (n = 26), and United Kingdom (n = 77) from Factiva and Canadian Newsstand databases using pre-defined coding categories. We evaluated the content of newspaper articles about ocular gene transfer for hereditary retinopathies, exploring representations of framing techniques, research design, risks/benefits, and translational timelines.
Results
The dominant frame in 61% of stories was a celebration of progress, followed by human-interest in 30% of stories. Missing from the positive frames were explanations of research design; articles conflated clinical research with treatment. Conflicts-of-interest and funding sources were similarly omitted. Attention was directed to the benefits of gene transfer, while risks were only reported in 43% of articles. A range of visual outcomes was described from slowing vision loss to cure, but the latter was the most frequently represented even though it is clinically infeasible. Despite the prominence of visual benefit portrayals, 87% of the articles failed to provide timelines for the commencement of clinical trials or for clinical implementation.
Conclusions
Our analysis confirms that despite many initiatives to improve media communications about experimental biotechnologies, media coverage remains overly optimistic and omits important information. In light of these findings, our recommendations focus on the need for clinicians account for media coverage in their communications with patients, especially in the context of clinical trial enrolment. The development of evidence-based communication strategies will facilitate informed consent and promote the ethical translation of this biotechnology.
doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-58
PMCID: PMC4107594  PMID: 25027482
Gene transfer; Gene therapy; Media; Newspaper coverage; Therapeutic misconception; Ethics; Informed consent
3.  Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review 
Nutrition Journal  2010;9:42.
Background
Over the past several decades, complementary and alternative medications have increasingly become a part of everyday treatment. With the rising cost of prescription medications and their production of unwanted side effects, patients are exploring herbal and other natural remedies for the management and treatment of psychological conditions. Psychological disorders are one of the most frequent conditions seen by clinicians, and often require a long-term regimen of prescription medications. Approximately 6.8 million Americans suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. Many also suffer from the spectrum of behavioural and physical side effects that often accompany its treatment. It is not surprising that there is universal interest in finding effective natural anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) treatments with a lower risk of adverse effects or withdrawal.
Methods
An electronic and manual search was performed through MEDLINE/PubMed and EBSCO. Articles were not discriminated by date of publication. Available clinical studies published in English that used human participants and examined the anxiolytic potential of dietary and herbal supplements were included. Data were extracted and compiled into tables that included the study design, sample population, intervention, control, length of treatment, outcomes, direction of evidence, and reported adverse events.
Results
A total of 24 studies that investigated five different CAM monotherapies and eight different combination treatments and involved 2619 participants met the inclusion criteria and were analyzed. There were 21 randomized controlled trials and three open-label, uncontrolled observational studies. Most studies involved patients who had been diagnosed with either an anxiety disorder or depression (n = 1786). However, eight studies used healthy volunteers (n = 877) who had normal levels of anxiety, were undergoing surgery, tested at the upper limit of the normal range of a trait anxiety scale, had adverse premenstrual symptoms or were peri-menopausal, reported anxiety and insomnia, or had one month or more of elevated generalized anxiety. Heterogeneity and the small number of studies for each supplement or combination therapy prevented a formal meta-analysis. Of the randomized controlled trials reviewed, 71% (15 out of 21) showed a positive direction of evidence. Any reported side effects were mild to moderate.
Conclusions
Based on the available evidence, it appears that nutritional and herbal supplementation is an effective method for treating anxiety and anxiety-related conditions without the risk of serious side effects. There is the possibility that any positive effects seen could be due to a placebo effect, which may have a significant psychological impact on participants with mental disorders. However, based on this systematic review, strong evidence exists for the use of herbal supplements containing extracts of passionflower or kava and combinations of L-lysine and L-arginine as treatments for anxiety symptoms and disorders. Magnesium-containing supplements and other herbal combinations may hold promise, but more research is needed before these products can be recommended to patients. St. John's wort monotherapy has insufficient evidence for use as an effective anxiolytic treatment.
doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-42
PMCID: PMC2959081  PMID: 20929532
4.  Influence of medical journal press releases on the quality of associated newspaper coverage: retrospective cohort study 
Objective To determine whether the quality of press releases issued by medical journals can influence the quality of associated newspaper stories.
Design Retrospective cohort study of medical journal press releases and associated news stories.
Setting We reviewed consecutive issues (going backwards from January 2009) of five major medical journals (Annals of Internal Medicine, BMJ, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, JAMA, and New England Journal of Medicine) to identify the first 100 original research articles with quantifiable outcomes and that had generated any newspaper coverage (unique stories ≥100 words long). We identified 759 associated newspaper stories using Lexis Nexis and Factiva searches, and 68 journal press releases using Eurekalert and journal website searches. Two independent research assistants assessed the quality of journal articles, press releases, and a stratified random sample of associated newspaper stories (n=343) by using a structured coding scheme for the presence of specific quality measures: basic study facts, quantification of the main result, harms, and limitations.
Main outcome Proportion of newspaper stories with specific quality measures (adjusted for whether the quality measure was present in the journal article’s abstract or editor note).
Results We recorded a median of three newspaper stories per journal article (range 1-72). Of 343 stories analysed, 71% reported on articles for which medical journals had issued press releases. 9% of stories quantified the main result with absolute risks when this information was not in the press release, 53% did so when it was in the press release (relative risk 6.0, 95% confidence interval 2.3 to 15.4), and 20% when no press release was issued (2.2, 0.83 to 6.1). 133 (39%) stories reported on research describing beneficial interventions. 24% mentioned harms (or specifically declared no harms) when harms were not mentioned in the press release, 68% when mentioned in the press release (2.8, 1.1 to 7.4), and 36% when no press release was issued (1.5, 0.49 to 4.4). 256 (75%) stories reported on research with important limitations. 16% reported any limitations when limitations were not mentioned in the press release, 48% when mentioned in the press release (3.0, 1.5 to 6.2), and 21% if no press release was issued (1.3, 0.50 to 3.6).
Conclusion High quality press releases issued by medical journals seem to make the quality of associated newspaper stories better, whereas low quality press releases might make them worse.
doi:10.1136/bmj.d8164
PMCID: PMC3267473  PMID: 22286507
5.  What is newsworthy? Longitudinal study of the reporting of medical research in two British newspapers 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2002;325(7355):81-84.
Objective
To assess the characteristics of medical research that is press released by general medical journals and reported in newspapers.
Design
Longitudinal study.
Data sources
All original research articles published in Lancet and BMJ during 1999 and 2000.
Main outcome measures
Inclusion of articles in Lancet or BMJ press releases, and reporting of articles in Times or Sun newspapers.
Results
Of 1193 original research articles, 517 (43%) were highlighted in a press release and 81 (7%) were reported in one or both newspapers. All articles covered in newspapers had been press released. The probability of inclusion in press releases was similar for observational studies and randomised controlled trials, but trials were less likely to be covered in the newspapers (odds ratio 0.15 (95% confidence interval 0.06 to 0.37)). Good news and bad news were equally likely to be press released, but bad news was more likely to be reported in newspapers (1.74 (1.07 to 2.83)). Studies of women's health, reproduction, and cancer were more likely to be press released and covered in newspapers. Studies from industrialised countries other than Britain were less likely to be reported in newspapers (0.51 (0.31 to 0.82)), and no studies from developing countries were covered.
Conclusions
Characteristics of articles were more strongly associated with selection for reporting in newspapers than with selection for inclusion in press releases, although each stage influenced the reporting process. Newspapers underreported randomised trials, emphasised bad news from observational studies, and ignored research from developing countries.
What is already known on this topicNewspapers are an important source of information about the results of medical researchThere are two stages on the path to newspaper coverage—selection by medical journal editors of articles to be press released and the selection of newsworthy articles by journalistsWhat this study addsExamination of press releasing by the Lancet and BMJ and reporting by the Times and Sun showed that selection processes acted at both stagesThe net effect meant that newspapers emphasised results from observational studies, in particular studies of women's health, reproduction, and cancerGood news and bad news were equally likely to be press released, but bad news was more likely to be reported in newspaper articles
PMCID: PMC117129  PMID: 12114239
6.  Publication trends in newspapers and scientific journals for SSRIs and suicidality: a systematic longitudinal study 
BMJ Open  2011;1(2):e000290.
Background
In the period 2003–2008, the regulatory authorities issued several warnings restricting the use of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in paediatrics, in reaction to safety concerns regarding the risk of suicidality. In this study, the SSRIs and suicidality controversy serves as a template to analyse the long-term publication trends regarding the benefit/risk profile of medications. The aim is to ascertain differences (in terms of numbers, categories and timing) between negative and positive newspaper and journal articles on SSRIs and suicidality and to ascertain correlations between changes in the reports and regulatory warnings.
Methods
A systematic review of scientific articles (Embase) and the Netherlands (NL) and the UK newspapers (LexisNexis) was performed between 2000 and 2010. Categorisation was done by ‘effect’ (related treatment effect), ‘type of article’ and ‘age group’. The articles' positive-to-negative effect ratio was determined. Differences in distribution of effect categories were analysed across sources, type of article and age group using the Mann–Whitney (two subgroups) or Kruskal–Wallis test (three or more).
Findings
In total, 1141 articles were categorised: 352 scientific, 224 Dutch and 565 British newspaper articles. Scientific articles were predominantly on research and were positive, whereas newspaper articles were negative (ratios=3.50—scientific, 0.69—NL and 0.94—UK; p<0.001). Articles on paediatrics were less positive in scientific journals and more negative in newspapers (ratios=2.29—scientific, 0.26—NL and 0.20—UK; p<0.001), while articles on adults were positive overall (ratios=10.0—scientific, 1.06—NL and 1.70—UK; p<0.001). In addition, negative-effect reporting trends were exacerbated following regulatory warnings and were generally opinion articles, both in scientific journals and in newspapers (2003/2004 and after 2007).
Interpretation
The authors found a positive publication tendency inherent in journal research articles. This apparent positive publication bias present in scientific journals, however, does not seem to prevent the dissemination of ‘bad’ news about medications. The negative tendency present in Dutch and British newspapers was perceivable in the paediatrics group and during the warnings, indicating that national news media have informed the public about this international drug safety controversy on time.
Article summary
Article focus
Publication trends of the benefit/risk profile of medications might differ in time and during a drug safety case.
We analysed the long-term dynamics of publication trends in the context of the SSRIs and suicidality controversy.
The number of articles (in terms of positive, negative and neutral, as well as the type of article and age groups) were analysed in scientific journals and the Netherlands and the UK dailies from January 2000 to December 2009.
Key messages
We found a positive publication tendency in scientific journals that did not influence the dissemination of negative news in newspapers in the Netherlands and the UK.
The negative tendency in newspapers was predominant in paediatrics and during the warnings.
The public was informed on time about this drug safety controversy, although the information conveyed was not uniform (from scientific journals to newspapers).
Strengths and limitations of this study
Definition of the categories is limited by the researchers' criteria.
Two independent scorers reviewed the articles to avoid subjectivity during scoring.
More than 95% agreements between both research scorers were documented.
doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000290
PMCID: PMC3236820  PMID: 22146889
7.  Conflict of Interest Reporting by Authors Involved in Promotion of Off-Label Drug Use: An Analysis of Journal Disclosures 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(8):e1001280.
Aaron Kesselheim and colleagues investigate conflict of interest disclosures in articles authored by physicians and scientists identified in whistleblower complaints alleging illegal off-label marketing by pharmaceutical companies.
Background
Litigation documents reveal that pharmaceutical companies have paid physicians to promote off-label uses of their products through a number of different avenues. It is unknown whether physicians and scientists who have such conflicts of interest adequately disclose such relationships in the scientific publications they author.
Methods and Findings
We collected whistleblower complaints alleging illegal off-label marketing from the US Department of Justice and other publicly available sources (date range: 1996–2010). We identified physicians and scientists described in the complaints as having financial relationships with defendant manufacturers, then searched Medline for articles they authored in the subsequent three years. We assessed disclosures made in articles related to the off-label use in question, determined the frequency of adequate disclosure statements, and analyzed characteristics of the authors (specialty, author position) and articles (type, connection to off-label use, journal impact factor, citation count/year). We identified 39 conflicted individuals in whistleblower complaints. They published 404 articles related to the drugs at issue in the whistleblower complaints, only 62 (15%) of which contained an adequate disclosure statement. Most articles had no disclosure (43%) or did not mention the pharmaceutical company (40%). Adequate disclosure rates varied significantly by article type, with commentaries less likely to have adequate disclosure compared to articles reporting original studies or trials (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 0.10, 95%CI = 0.02–0.67, p = 0.02). Over half of the authors (22/39, 56%) made no adequate disclosures in their articles. However, four of six authors with ≥25 articles disclosed in about one-third of articles (range: 10/36–8/25 [28%–32%]).
Conclusions
One in seven authors identified in whistleblower complaints as involved in off-label marketing activities adequately disclosed their conflict of interest in subsequent journal publications. This is a much lower rate of adequate disclosure than has been identified in previous studies. The non-disclosure patterns suggest shortcomings with authors and the rigor of journal practices.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editor's Summary
Background
Off-label use of pharmaceuticals is the practice of prescribing a drug for a condition or age group, or in a dose or form of administration, that has not been specifically approved by a formal regulatory body, such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Off-label prescribing is common all over the world. In the US, although it is legal for doctors to prescribe drugs off-label and discuss such clinical uses with colleagues, it is illegal for pharmaceutical companies to directly promote off-label uses of any of their products. Revenue from off-label uses can be lucrative for drug companies and even surpass the income from approved uses. Therefore, many pharmaceutical companies have paid physicians and scientists to promote off-label use of their products as part of their marketing programs.
Why Was This Study Done?
Recently, a number of pharmaceutical companies have been investigated in the US for illegal marketing programs that promote off-label uses of their products and have had to pay billions of dollars in court settlements. As part of these investigations, doctors and scientists were identified who were paid by the companies to deliver lectures and conduct other activities to support off-label uses. When the same physicians and scientists also wrote articles about these drugs for medical journals, their financial relationships would have constituted clear conflicts of interest that should have been declared alongside the journal articles. So, in this study, the researchers identified such authors, examined their publications, and assessed the adequacy of conflict of interest disclosures made in these publications.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used disclosed information from the US Department of Justice, media reports, and data from a non-governmental organization that tracks federal fraud actions, to find whistleblower complaints alleging illegal off-label promotion. Then they identified the doctors and scientists described in the complaints as having financial relationships with the defendant drug companies and searched Medline for articles authored by these experts in the subsequent three years. Using a four step approach, the researchers assessed the adequacy of conflict of interest disclosures made in articles relating to the off-label uses in question.
Using these methods, the researchers examined 26 complaints alleging illegal off-label promotion and identified the 91 doctors and scientists recorded as being involved in this practice. The researchers found 39 (43%) of these 91 experts had authored 404 related publications. In the complaints, these 39 experts were alleged to have engaged in 42 relationships with the relevant drug company: the most common activity was acting as a paid speaker (n = 26, 62%) but also writing reviews or articles on behalf of the company (n = 7), acting as consultants or advisory board members (n = 3), and receiving gifts/honoraria (n = 3), research support funds (n = 2), and educational support funds (n = 1). However, the researchers found that only 62 (15%) of the 404 related articles had adequate disclosures—43% (148) had no disclosure at all, 4% had statements denying any conflicts of interest, 40% had disclosures that did not mention the drug manufacturer, and 13% had disclosures that mentioned the manufacturer but inadequately conveyed the nature of the relationship between author and drug manufacturer reported in the complaint. The researchers also found that adequate disclosure rates varied significantly by article type, with commentaries significantly less likely to have adequate disclosure compared to articles reporting studies or trials.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show the substantial deficiencies in the adequacy of conflict-of-interest disclosures made by authors who had been paid by pharmaceutical manufacturers as part of off-label marketing activities: only one in seven authors fully disclosed their conflict of interest in their published articles. This low figure is troubling and suggests that approaches to controlling the effects of conflicts of interest that rely on author candidness are inadequate and furthermore, journal practices are not robust enough and need to be improved. In the meantime, readers have no option but to interpret conflict of interest disclosures, particularly in relation to off-label uses, with caution.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001280.
The US FDA provides a guide on the use of off-label drugs
The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers a patient guide to off-label drugs
ProPublica offers a web-based tool to identify physicians who have financial relationships with certain pharmaceutical companies
Wikipedia has a good description of off-label drug use (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The Institute for Medicine as a Profession maintains a list of policies regulating physicians' financial relationships that are in place at US-based academic medical centers
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001280
PMCID: PMC3413710  PMID: 22899894
8.  United States Private-Sector Physicians and Pharmaceutical Contract Research: A Qualitative Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(7):e1001271.
Jill Fisher and Corey Kalbaugh describe their findings from a qualitative research study evaluating the motivations of private-sector physicians conducting contract research for the pharmaceutical industry.
Background
There have been dramatic increases over the past 20 years in the number of nonacademic, private-sector physicians who serve as principal investigators on US clinical trials sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. However, there has been little research on the implications of these investigators' role in clinical investigation. Our objective was to study private-sector clinics involved in US pharmaceutical clinical trials to understand the contract research arrangements supporting drug development, and specifically how private-sector physicians engaged in contract research describe their professional identities.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a qualitative study in 2003–2004 combining observation at 25 private-sector research organizations in the southwestern United States and 63 semi-structured interviews with physicians, research staff, and research participants at those clinics. We used grounded theory to analyze and interpret our data. The 11 private-sector physicians who participated in our study reported becoming principal investigators on industry clinical trials primarily because contract research provides an additional revenue stream. The physicians reported that they saw themselves as trial practitioners and as businesspeople rather than as scientists or researchers.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that in addition to having financial motivation to participate in contract research, these US private-sector physicians have a professional identity aligned with an industry-based approach to research ethics. The generalizability of these findings and whether they have changed in the intervening years should be addressed in future studies.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
Before a new drug can be used routinely by physicians, it must be investigated in clinical trials—studies that test the drug's safety and effectiveness in people. In the past, clinical trials were usually undertaken in academic medical centers (institutes where physicians provide clinical care, do research, and teach), but increasingly, clinical trials are being conducted in the private sector as part of a growing contract research system. In the US, for example, most clinical trials completed in the 1980s took place in academic medical centers, but nowadays, more than 70% of trials are conducted by nonacademic (community) physicians working under contract to pharmaceutical companies. The number of private-sector nonacademic physicians serving as principal investigators (PIs) for US clinical trials (the PI takes direct responsibility for completion of the trial) increased from 4,000 in 1990 to 20,250 in 2010, and research contracts for clinical trials are now worth more than USṩ11 billion annually.
Why Was This Study Done?
To date, there has been little research on the implications of this change in the conduct of clinical trials. Academic PIs are often involved in both laboratory and clinical research and are therefore likely to identify closely with the science of trials. By contrast, nonacademic PIs may see clinical trials more as a business opportunity—pharmaceutical contract research is profitable to US physicians because they get paid for every step of the trial process. As a result, pharmaceutical companies may now have more control over clinical trial data and more opportunities to suppress negative data through selective publication of study results than previously. In this qualitative study, the researchers explore the outsourcing of clinical trials to private-sector research clinics through observations of, and in-depth interviews with, physicians and other research staff involved in the US clinical trials industry. A qualitative study collects non-quantitative data such as how physicians feel about doing contract research and about their responsibilities to their patients.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between October 2003 and September 2004, the researchers observed the interactions between PIs, trial coordinators (individuals who undertake many of the trial activities such as blood collection), and trial participants at 25 US research organizations in the southwestern US and interviewed 63 informants (including 12 PIs) about the trials they were involved in and their reasons for becoming involved. The researchers found that private-sector physicians became PIs on industry-sponsored clinical trials primarily because contract research was financially lucrative. The physicians perceived their roles in terms of business rather than science and claimed that they offered something to the pharmaceutical industry that academics do not—the ability to carry out a diverse range of trials quickly and effectively, regardless of their medical specialty. Finally, the physicians saw their primary ethical responsibility as providing accurate data to the companies that hired them and did not explicitly refer to their ethical responsibility to trial participants. One possible reason for this shift in ethical concerns is the belief among private-sector physicians that pharmaceutical companies must be making scientifically and ethically sound decisions when designing trials because of the amount of money they invest in them.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that private-sector physicians participate as PIs in pharmaceutical clinical trials primarily for financial reasons and see themselves as trial practitioners and businesspeople rather than as scientists. The accuracy of these findings is likely to be limited by the small number of PIs interviewed and by the time that has elapsed since the researchers collected their qualitative data. Moreover, these findings may not be generalizable to other regions of the US or to other countries. Nevertheless, they have potentially troubling implications for drug development. By hiring private-sector physicians who see themselves as involved more with the business than the science of contract research, pharmaceutical companies may be able to exert more control over the conduct of clinical trials and the publication of trial results than previously. Compared to the traditional investigatorinitiated system of clinical research, this new system of contract research means that clinical trials now lack the independence that is at the heart of best science practices, a development that casts doubt on the robustness of the knowledge being produced about the safety and effectiveness of new drugs.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001271.
The ClinicalTrials.gov website is a searchable register of federally and privately supported clinical trials in the US; it provides information about all aspects of clinical trials
The US National Institutes of Health provides information about clinical trials, including personal stories about clinical trials from patients and researchers
The UK National Health Service Choices website has information for patients about clinical trials and medical research, including personal stories about participating in clinical trials
The UK Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit also provides information for patients about clinical trials and links to information on clinical trials provided by other organizations
MedlinePlus has links to further resources on clinical trials (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001271
PMCID: PMC3404112  PMID: 22911055
9.  Public Welfare Agenda or Corporate Research Agenda? 
Mens Sana Monographs  2005;3(1):41-80.
As things stand today, whether we like it or not, industry funding is on the upswing. The whole enterprise of medicine in booming, and it makes sense for industry to invest more and more of one's millions into it. The pharmaceutical industry has become the single largest direct funding agency of medical research in countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Since the goals of industry and academia differ, it seems that conflicts of interest are inevitable at times. The crucial decision is whether the public welfare agenda of academia, or the corporate research agenda of industry, should occupy center stage when they conflict.
There is enough evidence to show that funding by industry is very systematic, and results that are supportive of the safety and efficacy of sponsor's products alone get the funds. It is no surprise, therefore, that one finds very few negative drug trials reports published, and whatever are, are likely to be by rival companies to serve their commercial interests.
Renewed and continued funding by industry decides the future prospects of many academic researchers. At the same time there is now evidence that pharmaceutical companies attempt suppression of research findings, may be selective in publishing results, and may delay or stymie publication of unfavourable results. This is a major area of concern for all conscientious researchers and industry watchers.
Industry commonly decides which clinical research/trial gets done, not academia, much though the latter may wish to believe otherwise. It finds willing researchers to carry this out. This can be one area of concern. Another area of pressing concern is when industry decides to both design and control publication of research.
It makes sense for researchers to refuse to allow commercial interests to rule research reporting. Research having been reported, the commercial implications of such reporting is industry's concern. But, doctoring of findings to suit commerce is to be resisted at all costs. In this even pliant researchers need have no fear, for if they indeed publish what will work, the concerned sponsor will benefit in the long run. The only decision academia has to make is refuse to comply with predestined conclusions of sponsors for the ‘thirty pieces of silver’. Instead do genuine research and make sixty for themselves.
The useful rule of thumb is: Keep the critical antenna on, especially with regard to drug trials, and more especially their methodology, and study closely the conflict of interest disclosed, and if possible undisclosed, before you jump on the band wagon to herald the next great wonder drug.
There are three important lessons to be learnt by academia in all academia-industry relationships:
i)Lesson number one: incorporate the right to publish contrary findings in the research contract itself. Which means, it makes great sense for academia to concentrate on the language and contractual provisions of sponsored research, to read the fine print very closely, and protect their research interests in case of conflict.ii)Lesson number two: a number of lawsuits successfully brought up against industry recently reflect earnest attempts by patient welfare bodies and others to remedy the tilt. It will result in a newfound confidence in academia that augurs well for academia industry relationship in the long run. Hence the second lesson for academia: do not get browbeaten by threats of legal actioniii)Lesson number three: Academia should keep itself involved right from inception of the clinical trial through to ultimate publication. And this must be an integral part of the written contract.
The time to repeat cliches about the exciting future of the academia-industry connect is past. A concerted effort to lay a strong foundation of the relationship on practical ethical grounds has become mandatory.
doi:10.4103/0973-1229.27878
PMCID: PMC3369180  PMID: 22679348
Public Welfare or Corporate Research Agenda; The Olivieri Case; Doctoring of Research Findings; Selective publishing; Delay and Under reporting; Complete Disclosure; Multi-centred Trials; Ghost writing; Duplicate Publication; Access to Data; Control over Publication; Negative Drug Trials; The Porcupine Dance; Law Suits Against Industry; Design and Control of Publication; Connection between Funding and Positive Findings
10.  Trial Publication after Registration in ClinicalTrials.Gov: A Cross-Sectional Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(9):e1000144.
Joseph Ross and colleagues examine publication rates of clinical trials and find low rates of publication even following registration in Clinicaltrials.gov.
Background
ClinicalTrials.gov is a publicly accessible, Internet-based registry of clinical trials managed by the US National Library of Medicine that has the potential to address selective trial publication. Our objectives were to examine completeness of registration within ClinicalTrials.gov and to determine the extent and correlates of selective publication.
Methods and Findings
We examined reporting of registration information among a cross-section of trials that had been registered at ClinicalTrials.gov after December 31, 1999 and updated as having been completed by June 8, 2007, excluding phase I trials. We then determined publication status among a random 10% subsample by searching MEDLINE using a systematic protocol, after excluding trials completed after December 31, 2005 to allow at least 2 y for publication following completion. Among the full sample of completed trials (n = 7,515), nearly 100% reported all data elements mandated by ClinicalTrials.gov, such as intervention and sponsorship. Optional data element reporting varied, with 53% reporting trial end date, 66% reporting primary outcome, and 87% reporting trial start date. Among the 10% subsample, less than half (311 of 677, 46%) of trials were published, among which 96 (31%) provided a citation within ClinicalTrials.gov of a publication describing trial results. Trials primarily sponsored by industry (40%, 144 of 357) were less likely to be published when compared with nonindustry/nongovernment sponsored trials (56%, 110 of 198; p<0.001), but there was no significant difference when compared with government sponsored trials (47%, 57 of 122; p = 0.22). Among trials that reported an end date, 75 of 123 (61%) completed prior to 2004, 50 of 96 (52%) completed during 2004, and 62 of 149 (42%) completed during 2005 were published (p = 0.006).
Conclusions
Reporting of optional data elements varied and publication rates among completed trials registered within ClinicalTrials.gov were low. Without greater attention to reporting of all data elements, the potential for ClinicalTrials.gov to address selective publication of clinical trials will be limited.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
People assume that whenever they are ill, health care professionals will make sure they get the best available treatment. But how do clinicians know which treatment is most appropriate? In the past, clinicians used their own experience to make treatment decisions. Nowadays, they rely on evidence-based medicine—the systematic review and appraisal of the results of clinical trials, studies that investigate the efficacy and safety of medical interventions in people. However, evidence-based medicine can only be effective if all the results from clinical trials are published promptly in medical journals. Unfortunately, the results of trials in which a new drug did not perform better than existing drugs or in which it had unwanted side effects often remain unpublished or only appear in the public domain many years after the drug has been approved for clinical use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other governmental bodies.
Why Was This Study Done?
The extent of this “selective” publication, which can impair evidence-based clinical practice, remains unclear but is thought to be substantial. In this study, the researchers investigate the problem of selective publication by systematically examining the extent of publication of the results of trials registered in ClinicalTrials.gov, a Web-based registry of US and international clinical trials. ClinicalTrials.gov was established in 2000 by the US National Library of Medicine in response to the 1997 FDA Modernization Act. This act required preregistration of all trials of new drugs to provide the public with information about trials in which they might be able to participate. Mandatory data elements for registration in ClinicalTrials.gov initially included the trial's title, the condition studied in the trial, the trial design, and the intervention studied. In September 2007, the FDA Amendments Act expanded the mandatory requirements for registration in ClinicalTrials.gov by making it necessary, for example, to report the trial start date and to report primary and secondary outcomes (the effect of the intervention on predefined clinical measurements) in the registry within 2 years of trial completion.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 7,515 trials that were registered within ClinicalTrials.gov after December 31, 1999 (excluding phase I, safety trials), and whose record indicated trial completion by June 8, 2007. Most of these trials reported all the mandatory data elements that were required by ClinicalTrials.gov before the FDA Amendments Act but reporting of optional data elements was less complete. For example, only two-thirds of the trials reported their primary outcome. Next, the researchers randomly selected 10% of the trials and, after excluding trials whose completion date was after December 31, 2005 (to allow at least two years for publication), determined the publication status of this subsample by systematically searching MEDLINE (an online database of articles published in selected medical and scientific journals). Fewer than half of the trials in the subsample had been published, and the citation for only a third of these publications had been entered into ClinicalTrials.gov. Only 40% of industry-sponsored trials had been published compared to 56% of nonindustry/nongovernment-sponsored trials, a difference that is unlikely to have occurred by chance. Finally, 61% of trials with a completion date before 2004 had been published, but only 42% of trials completed during 2005 had been published.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, over the period studied, critical trial information was not included in the ClinicalTrials.gov registry. The FDA Amendments Act should remedy some of these shortcomings but only if the accuracy and completeness of the information in ClinicalTrials.gov is carefully monitored. These findings also reveal that registration in ClinicalTrials.gov does not guarantee that trial results will appear in a timely manner in the scientific literature. However, they do not address the reasons for selective publication (which may be, in part, because it is harder to publish negative results than positive results), and they are potentially limited by the methods used to discover whether trial results had been published. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that the FDA, trial sponsors, and the scientific community all need to make a firm commitment to minimize the selective publication of trial results to ensure that patients and clinicians have access to the information they need to make fully informed treatment decisions.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000144.
PLoS Medicine recently published two related articles on selected publication by Ida Sim and colleagues and by Lisa Bero and colleagues and an editorial discussing the FDA Amendments Act
ClinicalTrials.gov provides information about the US National Institutes of Health clinical trial registry, including background information about clinical trials, and a fact sheet detailing the requirements of the FDA Amendments Act 2007 for trial registration
The US Food and Drug Administration provides further information about drug approval in the US for consumers and health care professionals
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000144
PMCID: PMC2728480  PMID: 19901971
11.  What the newspapers say about medication adherence: a content analysis 
BMC Public Health  2013;13:909.
Background
This study investigates the coverage of adherence to medicine by the UK and US newsprint media. Adherence to medicine is recognised as an important issue facing healthcare professionals and the newsprint media is a key source of health information, however, little is known about newspaper coverage of medication adherence.
Methods
A search of the newspaper database Nexis®UK from 2004–2011 was performed. Content analysis of newspaper articles which referenced medication adherence from the twelve highest circulating UK and US daily newspapers and their Sunday equivalents was carried out. A second researcher coded a 15% sample of newspaper articles to establish the inter-rater reliability of coding.
Results
Searches of newspaper coverage of medication adherence in the UK and US yielded 181 relevant articles for each country. There was a large increase in the number of scientific articles on medication adherence in PubMed® over the study period, however, this was not reflected in the frequency of newspaper articles published on medication adherence. UK newspaper articles were significantly more likely to report the benefits of adherence (p = 0.005), whereas US newspaper articles were significantly more likely to report adherence issues in the elderly population (p = 0.004) and adherence associated with diseases of the central nervous system (p = 0.046). The most commonly reported barriers to adherence were patient factors e.g. poor memory, beliefs and age, whereas, the most commonly reported facilitators to adherence were medication factors including simplified regimens, shorter treatment duration and combination tablets. HIV/AIDS was the single most frequently cited disease (reported in 20% of newspaper articles). Poor quality reporting of medication adherence was identified in 62% of newspaper articles.
Conclusion
Adherence is not well covered in the newspaper media despite a significant presence in the medical literature. The mass media have the potential to help educate and shape the public’s knowledge regarding the importance of medication adherence; this potential is not being realised at present.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-909
PMCID: PMC3850885  PMID: 24088645
Newspaper article; Newspapers; Patient compliance; Adherence
12.  Financial Conflicts of Interest and Reporting Bias Regarding the Association between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(12):e1001578.
Maira Bes-Rastrollo and colleagues examine whether financial conflicts of interest are likely to bias conclusions from systematic reviews that investigate the relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain or obesity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Industry sponsors' financial interests might bias the conclusions of scientific research. We examined whether financial industry funding or the disclosure of potential conflicts of interest influenced the results of published systematic reviews (SRs) conducted in the field of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and weight gain or obesity.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a search of the PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Scopus databases to identify published SRs from the inception of the databases to August 31, 2013, on the association between SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity. SR conclusions were independently classified by two researchers into two groups: those that found a positive association and those that did not. These two reviewers were blinded with respect to the stated source of funding and the disclosure of conflicts of interest.
We identified 17 SRs (with 18 conclusions). In six of the SRs a financial conflict of interest with some food industry was disclosed. Among those reviews without any reported conflict of interest, 83.3% of the conclusions (10/12) were that SSB consumption could be a potential risk factor for weight gain. In contrast, the same percentage of conclusions, 83.3% (5/6), of those SRs disclosing some financial conflict of interest with the food industry were that the scientific evidence was insufficient to support a positive association between SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity. Those reviews with conflicts of interest were five times more likely to present a conclusion of no positive association than those without them (relative risk: 5.0, 95% CI: 1.3–19.3).
An important limitation of this study is the impossibility of ruling out the existence of publication bias among those studies not declaring any conflict of interest. However, the best large randomized trials also support a direct association between SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity.
Conclusions
Financial conflicts of interest may bias conclusions from SRs on SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In our daily lives, we frequently rely on the results of scientific research to make decisions about our health. If we are healthy, we may seek out scientific advice about how much exercise to do to reduce our risk of a heart attack, and we may follow dietary advice issued by public health bodies to help us maintain a healthy weight. If we are ill, we expect our treatment to be based on the results of clinical trials and other studies. We assume that the scientific research that underlies our decisions about health-related issues is unbiased and accurate. However, there is increasing evidence that the conclusions of industry-sponsored scientific research are sometimes biased. So, for example, reports of drug trials sponsored by pharmaceutical companies sometimes emphasize the positive results of trials and “hide” unwanted side effects deep within the report or omit them altogether.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although the effects of company sponsors on the conclusions of pharmaceutical research have been extensively examined, little is known about the effects of industry sponsorship on nutrition research, even though large commercial entities are increasingly involved in global food and drink production. It is important to know whether the scientific evidence about nutrition is free of bias because biased information might negatively affect the health of entire populations. Moreover, scientific evidence from nutrition research underlies the formulation of governmental dietary guidelines and food-related public health interventions. In this systematic review, the researchers investigate whether the disclosure of potential financial conflicts of interest (for example, research funding by a beverage company) has influenced the results of systematic reviews undertaken to examine the association between the consumption of highly lucrative sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and weight gain or obesity. Systematic reviews identify all the research on a given topic using predefined criteria. In an ideal world, systematic reviews provide access to all the available evidence on specific exposure–disease associations, but publication bias related to authors' conflicts of interest may affect the reliability of the conclusions of such studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 18 conclusions from 17 systematic reviews that had investigated the association between SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity. In six of these reviews, a financial conflict of interest with a food industry was disclosed. Among the reviews that reported having no conflict of interest, 83.3% of the conclusions were that SSB consumption could be a potential risk factor for weight gain. By contrast, the same percentage of reviews in which a potential financial conflict of interest was disclosed concluded that the scientific evidence was insufficient to support a positive association between SSB consumption and weight gain, or reported contradictory results and did not state any definitive conclusion about the association between SSB consumption and weight gain. Reviews in which a potential conflict of interest was disclosed were five times more likely to present a conclusion of no positive association between SSB consumption and weight gain than reviews that reported having no financial conflict of interest.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that systematic reviews that reported financial conflicts of interest or sponsorship from food or drink companies were more likely to reach a conclusion of no positive association between SSB consumption and weight gain than reviews that reported having no conflicts of interest. A major limitation of this study is that it cannot assess which interpretation of the available evidence is truly accurate. For example, the scientists involved in the systematic reviews that reported having no conflict of interest may have had preexisting prejudices that affected their interpretation of their findings. However, the interests of the food industry (increased sales of their products) are very different from those of most researchers (the honest pursuit of knowledge), and recent randomized trials support a positive association between SSB consumption and overweight/obesity. Thus, these findings draw attention to possible inaccuracies in scientific evidence from research funded by the food and drink industry. They do not imply that industry sponsorship of nutrition research should be avoided entirely. Rather, as in other research areas, clear guidelines and principles (for example, sponsors should sign contracts that state that they will not be involved in the interpretation of results) need to be established to avoid dangerous conflicts of interest.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001578.
The Research Ethics Program at the University of California, San Diego provides an overview of conflicts of interest for researchers and details of US regulations and guidelines
The PLOS Medicine series on Big Food examines the activities and influence of the food industry in global health
A PLOS Medicine Research Article by Basu et al. uses mathematical modeling to investigate whether SSB taxation would avert obesity and diabetes in India
A 2012 policy brief from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity discusses current evidence regarding SSB taxes
The US National Institutes of Health has regulations on financial conflicts of interest for institutions applying to receive funding
Wikipedia has pages on conflict of interest, reporting bias, systematic review, and SSBs (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001578
PMCID: PMC3876974  PMID: 24391479
13.  Drugs in the news: an analysis of Canadian newspaper coverage of new prescription drugs 
Background
Patients routinely cite the media, after physicians and pharmacists, as a key source of information on new drugs, but there has been little research on the quality of drug information presented. We assessed newspaper descriptions of drug benefits and harms, the nature of the effects described and the presence or absence of other important information that can add context and balance to a report about a new drug.
Methods
We looked at newspaper coverage in the year 2000 of 5 prescription drugs launched in Canada between 1996 and 2001 that received a high degree of media attention: atorvastatin, celecoxib, donepezil, oseltamivir and raloxifene. We searched 24 of Canada's largest daily newspapers for articles reporting at least one benefit or harm of any of these 5 drugs. We recorded the benefits and harms reported and analyzed how such information was presented; we also determined whether clinical or surrogate outcomes were mentioned; if and how drug effects were quantified; whether contraindications, other treatment options and costs were mentioned; and whether any information on affiliations of quoted interviewees and potential conflicts of interest was presented.
Results
Our search yielded 193 articles reporting at least one benefit or harm for 1 of the 5 drugs. All of the articles mentioned at least one benefit, but 68% (132/193) made no mention of possible side effects or harms. Only 24% (120/510) of mentions of drug benefits and harms presented quantitative information. In 26% (31/120) of cases in which drug benefits and harms were quantified, the magnitude was presented only in relative terms, which can be misleading. Overall, 62% (119/193) of the articles gave no quantification of the benefits or harms. Thirty-seven (19%) of the 193 articles reported only surrogate benefits. Other information needed for informed drug-related decisions was often lacking: only 7 (4%) of the articles mentioned contraindications, 61 (32%) mentioned drug costs, 89 (46%) mentioned drug alternatives, and 30 (16%) mentioned nondrug treatment options (such as exercise or diet). Sixty-two percent (120/193) of the articles quoted at least one interviewee. After exclusion of industry and government spokespeople, for only 3% (5/164) of interviewees was there any mention of potential financial conflicts of interest. Twenty-six percent (15/57) of the articles discussing a study included information on study funding.
Interpretation
Our results raise concerns about the completeness and quality of media reporting about new medications.
PMCID: PMC153682  PMID: 12719316
14.  A Plant-Derived Morphinan as a Novel Lead Compound Active against Malaria Liver Stages  
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e513.
Background
The global spread of multidrug–resistant malaria parasites has led to an urgent need for new chemotherapeutic agents. Drug discovery is primarily directed to the asexual blood stages, and few drugs that are effective against the obligatory liver stages, from which the pathogenic blood infection is initiated, have become available since primaquine was deployed in the 1950s.
Methods and Findings
Using bioassay-guided fractionation based on the parasite's hepatic stage, we have isolated a novel morphinan alkaloid, tazopsine, from a plant traditionally used against malaria in Madagascar. This compound and readily obtained semisynthetic derivatives were tested for inhibitory activity against liver stage development in vitro (P. falciparum and P. yoelii) and in vivo (P. yoelii). Tazopsine fully inhibited the development of P. yoelii (50% inhibitory concentration [IC50] 3.1 μM, therapeutic index [TI] 14) and P. falciparum (IC50 4.2 μM, TI 7) hepatic parasites in cultured primary hepatocytes, with inhibition being most pronounced during the early developmental stages. One derivative, N-cyclopentyl-tazopsine (NCP-tazopsine), with similar inhibitory activity was selected for its lower toxicity (IC50 3.3 μM, TI 46, and IC50 42.4 μM, TI 60, on P. yoelii and P. falciparum hepatic stages in vitro, respectively). Oral administration of NCP-tazopsine completely protected mice from a sporozoite challenge. Unlike the parent molecule, the derivative was uniquely active against Plasmodium hepatic stages.
Conclusions
A readily obtained semisynthetic derivative of a plant-derived compound, tazopsine, has been shown to be specifically active against the liver stage, but inactive against the blood forms of the malaria parasite. This unique specificity in an antimalarial drug severely restricts the pressure for the selection of drug resistance to a parasite stage limited both in numbers and duration, thus allowing researchers to envisage the incorporation of a true causal prophylactic in malaria control programs.
A derivative of a morphinan alkaloid, tazopsine, from a plant used against malaria in Madagascar, is active against the hepatic stages ofPlasmodium species.
Editors' Summary
Background.
The parasite that causes malaria has quickly developed resistance to many of the drugs that are commonly used to treat this disease. As a result, new drugs and drug combinations are needed. In some parts of the world where antimalarial drugs are failing due to resistance, or are not available to everyone, people often turn to traditional herbal remedies instead. These traditional plant remedies can be a useful starting point for development of new drugs, but the process of developing effective new drugs from plant remedies is long and complicated. An important initial step is to isolate and identify the active compounds from plants and then see how well these compounds perform against malaria parasites in laboratory tests. If the tests are successful, such compounds could then progress to experiments in animals and possibly eventually human trials. One plant used widely in Madagascar for treatment of malaria is Strychnopsis thouarsii; the traditional remedy consists of the plant stem bark boiled in water.
Why Was This Study Done?
The group of researchers doing this study wanted to discover candidates for new malaria drugs. They therefore wanted to find out which molecular compounds in the stem bark of S. thouarsii contained antimalarial activity, and what particular stage of the malaria parasite's life cycle these compounds had an effect on. The researchers suspected that the agents in this plant bark had some activity against the “liver stage” of malaria infection in humans. This is the first stage of infection, after a person has been bitten by a malaria-infected mosquito, and before blood cells are invaded by malaria parasites (which then causes the disease symptoms). Very few drugs currently in existence have an effect on the “liver stage” of infection, but activity at this stage would be tremendously useful because it could mean a drug is better for prevention of malaria than others in existence.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
First, the researchers wanted to take the traditional herbal remedy—of S. thouarsii bark boiled in water—and find out precisely which molecule in that remedy was responsible for the antimalarial activity. They therefore used a method called chromatography to progressively separate the herbal extract into its distinct components. At each stage of separation, the extract was checked for activity against malaria using a laboratory test. Inactive extracts were disregarded, and the active component then taken on to a further separation round. After many rounds of separation and testing, the researchers got down to a single, apparently new, molecule that was active against malaria in the laboratory test, and this molecule was named tazopsine (in the Malagasy language the word Tazo refers to malaria). In order to find out how effective the molecule was at killing malaria parasites, the researchers took human or mouse liver cells cultured in the laboratory, infected them with malaria parasites (either the malaria parasite that normally infects humans, or a related species that infects mice), and then added tazopsine at different concentrations. The compound completely killed the malaria parasites even at very low concentrations, and had activity against malaria infecting either liver cells or red blood cells. Tazopsine was then given to mice injected with a species of the malaria parasite. The compound protected most mice against malaria infection when it was used at a dosage level lower than the toxic dose. The researchers then tried making a series of different variants of tazopsine in the hope that some variants would be less toxic, but equally active as, the original compound. They found one variant, named NCP-tazopsine, that was much less toxic but just as active as tazopsine, but only against the malaria infecting liver cells.
What Do These Findings Mean?
In these experiments a new molecule, tazopsine, was discovered from a Malagasy plant, and it was found to be active against liver-stage malaria parasites, in laboratory experiments and in mice. This molecule or variants of it could in future become candidate antimalarial drugs in humans. However, much work would need to be done before testing could get to that stage. Different variants of molecules related to tazopsine would need to be tested to find one that has low toxicity, and these variants would need to be fully evaluated in animals to see how they are handled in the body before any trials could begin in humans.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0030513
The World Health Organization publishes a minisite containing links to information about all aspects of malaria worldwide, including treatment, prevention, and current programmes for malaria control
Medicines for Malaria Venture is a collaboration between public and private organizations (including the pharmaceutical industry) that aims to fund and manage the development of new drugs for treatment and prevention of malaria
Wikipedia entries for drug discovery and drug development (note: Wikipedia is an internet encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030513
PMCID: PMC1716192  PMID: 17194195
15.  Natural products as starting points for future anti-malarial therapies: going back to our roots? 
Malaria Journal  2011;10(Suppl 1):S3.
Background
The discovery and development of new anti-malarials are at a crossroads. Fixed dose artemisinin combination therapy is now being used to treat a hundred million children each year, with a cost as low as 30 cents per child, with cure rates of over 95%. However, as with all anti-infective strategies, this triumph brings with it the seeds of its own downfall, the emergence of resistance. It takes ten years to develop a new medicine. New classes of medicines to combat malaria, as a result of infection by Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax are urgently needed.
Results
Natural product scaffolds have been the basis of the majority of current anti-malarial medicines. Molecules such as quinine, lapachol and artemisinin were originally isolated from herbal medicinal products. After improvement with medicinal chemistry and formulation technologies, and combination with other active ingredients, they now make up the current armamentarium of medicines. In recent years advances in screening technologies have allowed testing of millions of compounds from pharmaceutical diversity for anti-malarial activity in cellular assays. These initiatives have resulted in thousands of new sub-micromolar active compounds – starting points for new drug discovery programmes. Against this backdrop, the paucity of potent natural products identified has been disappointing. Now is a good time to reflect on the current approach to screening herbal medicinal products and suggest revisions. Nearly sixty years ago, the Chinese doctor Chen Guofu, suggested natural products should be approached by dao-xing-ni-shi or ‘acting in the reversed order’, starting with observational clinical studies. Natural products based on herbal remedies are in use in the community, and have the potential unique advantage that clinical observational data exist, or can be generated. The first step should be the confirmation and definition of the clinical activity of herbal medicinal products already used by the community. This first step forms a solid basis of observations, before moving to in vivo pharmacological characterization and ultimately identifying the active ingredient. A large part of the population uses herbal medicinal products despite limited numbers of well-controlled clinical studies. Increased awareness by the regulators and public health bodies of the need for safety information on herbal medicinal products also lends support to obtaining more clinical data on such products.
Conclusions
The relative paucity of new herbal medicinal product scaffolds active against malaria results discovered in recent years suggest it is time to re-evaluate the ‘smash and grab’ approach of randomly testing purified natural products and replace it with a patient-data led approach. This will require a change of perspective form many in the field. It will require an investment in standardisation in several areas, including: the ethnopharmacology and design and reporting of clinical observation studies, systems for characterizing anti-malarial activity of patient plasma samples ex vivo followed by chemical and pharmacological characterisation of extracts from promising sources. Such work falls outside of the core mandate of the product development partnerships, such as MMV, and so will require additional support. This call is timely, given the strong interest from researchers in disease endemic countries to support the research arm of a malaria eradication agenda. Para-national institutions such as the African Network for Drugs and Diagnostics Innovation (ANDi) will play a major role in facilitating the development of their natural products patrimony and possibly clinical best practice to bring forward new therapeutics. As in the past, with quinine, lapinone and artemisinin, once the activity of herbal medicinal products in humans is characterised, it can be used to identify new molecular scaffolds which will form the basis of the next generation of anti-malarial therapies.
doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-S1-S3
PMCID: PMC3059461  PMID: 21411014
16.  The use of herbal medicines during breastfeeding: a population-based survey in Western Australia 
Background
Main concerns for lactating women about medications include the safety of their breastfed infants and the potential effects of medication on quantity and quality of breast milk. While medicine treatments include conventional and complementary medicines, most studies to date have focused on evaluating the safety aspect of conventional medicines. Despite increasing popularity of herbal medicines, there are currently limited data available on the pattern of use and safety of these medicines during breastfeeding. This study aimed to identify the pattern of use of herbal medicines during breastfeeding in Perth, Western Australia, and to identify aspects which require further clinical research.
Methods
This study was conducted using a self-administered questionnaire validated through two pilot studies. Participants were 18 years or older, breastfeeding or had breastfed in the past 12 months. Participants were recruited from various community and health centres, and through advertising in newspapers. Simple descriptive statistics were used to summarise the demographic profile and attitudes of respondents, using the SPSS statistical software.
Results
A total of 304 questionnaires from eligible participants were returned (27.2% response rate) and analysed. Amongst the respondents, 59.9% took at least one herb for medicinal purposes during breastfeeding, whilst 24.3% reported the use of at least one herb to increase breast milk supply. Most commonly used herbs were fenugreek (18.4%), ginger (11.8%), dong quai (7.9%), chamomile (7.2%), garlic (6.6%) and blessed thistle (5.9%). The majority of participants (70.1%) believed that there was a lack of information resources, whilst 43.4% perceived herbal medicines to be safer than conventional medicines. Only 28.6% of users notified their doctor of their decision to use herbal medicine(s) during breastfeeding; 71.6% had previously refused or avoided conventional medicine treatments due to concerns regarding safety of their breastfed infants.
Conclusions
The use of herbal medicines is common amongst breastfeeding women, while information supporting their safety and efficacy is lacking. This study has demonstrated the need for further research into commonly used herbal medicines. Evidence-based information should be available to breastfeeding women who wish to consider use of all medicines, including complementary medicines, to avoid unnecessary cessation of breastfeeding or compromising of pharmacotherapy.
doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-317
PMCID: PMC3835544  PMID: 24219150
Herbal medicines; Breastfeeding; Lactation; Breastfeeding women; Survey; Prevalence
17.  Effects and treatment methods of acupuncture and herbal medicine for premenstrual syndrome/premenstrual dysphoric disorder: systematic review 
Background
During their reproductive years about 10% of women experience some kind of symptoms before menstruation (PMS) in a degree that affects their quality of life (QOL). Acupuncture and herbal medicine has been a recent favorable therapeutic approach. Thus we aimed to review the effects of acupuncture and herbal medicine in the past decade as a preceding research in order to further investigate the most effective Korean Medicine treatment for PMS/PMDD.
Methods
A systematic literature search was conducted using electronic databases on studies published between 2002 and 2012. Our review included randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) of acupuncture and herbal medicine for PMS/PMDD. Interventions include acupuncture or herbal medicine. Clinical information including statistical tests was extracted from the articles and summarized in tabular form or in the text. Study outcomes were presented as the rate of improvement (%) and/or end-of-treatment scores.
Results
The search yielded 19 studies. In screening the RCTs, 8 studies in acupuncture and 11 studies in herbal medicine that matched the criteria were identified. Different acupuncture techniques including traditional acupuncture, hand acupuncture and moxibustion, and traditional acupuncture technique with auricular points, have been selected for analysis. In herbal medicine, studies on Vitex Agnus castus, Hypericum perforatum, Xiao yao san, Elsholtzia splendens, Cirsium japonicum, and Gingko biloba L. were identified. Experimental groups with Acupuncture and herbal medicine treatment (all herbal medicine except Cirsium japonicum) had significantly improved results regarding PMS/PMDD.
Conclusions
Limited evidence supports the efficacy of alternative medicinal interventions such as acupuncture and herbal medicine in controlling premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments for premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder showed a 50% or better reduction of symptoms compared to the initial state. In both acupuncture and herbal medical interventions, there have been no serious adverse events reported, proving the safety of the interventions while most of the interventions provided over 50% relief of symptoms associated with PMS/PMDD. Stricter diagnostic criteria may have excluded many participants from some studies. Also, depending on the severity of symptoms, the rate of improvement in the outcomes of the studies may have greatly differed.
doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-11
PMCID: PMC3898234  PMID: 24410911
Premenstrual syndrome; Premenstrual dysphoric disorder; Acupuncture; Herbal medicine; TCM; CAM; PMS; PMDD
18.  HERBAL THERAPY USE BY CANCER PATIENTS: A LITERATURE REVIEW ON CASE REPORTS 
Complementary and alternative medicine use is common among cancer patients. In many surveys, herbal medicines are among the most commonly used group of treatments. Herbal remedies are believed by the general public to be safe, cause less side effects and less likely to cause dependency.
The authors performed a literature review to assess which herbal approaches have had associated cancer case reports and determine which of these have been studied in prospective research. Eighteen case reports of patients having apparent antitumour effects from herbal therapy and 21 case reports of toxic effects of herbs used by cancer patients were identified. Clinicaltrials.gov and MEDLINE (via PubMed) were searched for each of the herbal products identified in these reports. Clinical trials in cancer populations were identified for green tea extracts or compounds (n = 34), phytoestrogens (n=27), mistletoe (n =8), Ganoderma lucidum (n=1), Noni (n = 1) and Silymarin (n = 1). Daikenchuto, PC-SPES, Nyoshinsan/TJ and Saw palmetto have also been studied prospectively.
In conclusion, some of the herbs with promising case report findings have undergone prospective clinical investigations but many others have either not yet been explored or the results have not been reported in English. Unconventional therapies, such as herbs and minerals, used in ancient medical traditions have led to the identification of active anticancer agents. Mechanisms to support prospective research with such approaches are discussed.
doi:10.1016/j.ejca.2010.11.018
PMCID: PMC3057114  PMID: 21185719
herbs; complementary and alternative medicine; cancer; treatment; toxicity
19.  Promotional Tone in Reviews of Menopausal Hormone Therapy After the Women's Health Initiative: An Analysis of Published Articles 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(3):e1000425.
Adriane Fugh-Berman and colleagues analyzed a selection of published opinion pieces on hormone therapy and show that there may be a connection between receiving industry funding for speaking, consulting, or research and the tone of such opinion pieces.
Background
Even after the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) found that the risks of menopausal hormone therapy (hormone therapy) outweighed benefit for asymptomatic women, about half of gynecologists in the United States continued to believe that hormones benefited women's health. The pharmaceutical industry has supported publication of articles in medical journals for marketing purposes. It is unknown whether author relationships with industry affect promotional tone in articles on hormone therapy. The goal of this study was to determine whether promotional tone could be identified in narrative review articles regarding menopausal hormone therapy and whether articles identified as promotional were more likely to have been authored by those with conflicts of interest with manufacturers of menopausal hormone therapy.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed tone in opinion pieces on hormone therapy published in the four years after the estrogen-progestin arm of the WHI was stopped. First, we identified the ten authors with four or more MEDLINE-indexed reviews, editorials, comments, or letters on hormone replacement therapy or menopausal hormone therapy published between July 2002 and June 2006. Next, we conducted an additional search using the names of these authors to identify other relevant articles. Finally, after author names and affiliations were removed, 50 articles were evaluated by three readers for scientific accuracy and for tone. Scientific accuracy was assessed based on whether or not the findings of the WHI were accurately reported using two criteria: (1) Acknowledgment or lack of denial of the risk of breast cancer diagnosis associated with hormone therapy, and (2) acknowledgment that hormone therapy did not benefit cardiovascular disease endpoints. Determination of promotional tone was based on the assessment by each reader of whether the article appeared to promote hormone therapy. Analysis of inter-rater consistency found moderate agreement for scientific accuracy (κ = 0.57) and substantial agreement for promotional tone (κ = 0.65). After discussion, readers found 86% of the articles to be scientifically accurate and 64% to be promotional in tone. Themes that were common in articles considered promotional included attacks on the methodology of the WHI, arguments that clinical trial results should not guide treatment for individuals, and arguments that observational studies are as good as or better than randomized clinical trials for guiding clinical decisions. The promotional articles we identified also implied that the risks associated with hormone therapy have been exaggerated and that the benefits of hormone therapy have been or will be proven. Of the ten authors studied, eight were found to have declared payment for speaking or consulting on behalf of menopausal hormone manufacturers or for research support (seven of these eight were speakers or consultants). Thirty of 32 articles (90%) evaluated as promoting hormone therapy were authored by those with potential financial conflicts of interest, compared to 11 of 18 articles (61%) by those without such conflicts (p = 0.0025). Articles promoting the use of menopausal hormone therapy were 2.41 times (95% confidence interval 1.49–4.93) as likely to have been authored by authors with conflicts of interest as by authors without conflicts of interest. In articles from three authors with conflicts of interest some of the same text was repeated word-for-word in different articles.
Conclusion
There may be a connection between receiving industry funding for speaking, consulting, or research and the publication of promotional opinion pieces on menopausal hormone therapy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Over the past three decades, menopausal hormones have been heavily promoted for preventing disease in women. However, the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study—which enrolled more than 26,000 women in the US and which was published in 2004—found that estrogen-progestin and estrogen-only formulations (often prescribed to women around the age of menopause) increased the risk of stroke, deep vein thrombosis, dementia, and incontinence. Furthermore, this study found that the estrogen-progestin therapy increased rates of breast cancer. In fact, the estrogen-progestin arm of the WHI study was stopped in 2002 due to harmful findings, and the estrogen-only arm was stopped in 2004, also because of harmful findings. In addition, the study also found that neither therapy reduced cardiovascular risk or markedly benefited health-related quality of life measures.
Despite these results, two years after the results of WHI study were published, a survey of over 700 practicing gynecologists—the specialists who prescribe the majority of menopausal hormone therapies—in the US found that almost half did not find the findings of the WHI study convincing and that 48% disagreed with the decision to stop the trial early. Furthermore, follow-up surveys found similar results.
Why Was This Study Done?
It is unclear why gynecologists and other physicians continue to prescribe menopausal hormone therapies despite the results of the WHI. Some academics argue that published industry-funded reviews and commentaries may be designed to convey specific, but subtle, marketing messages and several academic analyses have used internal industry documents disclosed in litigation cases. So this study was conducted to investigate whether hormone therapy–promoting tone could be identified in narrative review articles and if so, whether these articles were more likely to have been authored by people who had accepted funding from hormone manufacturers.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers conducted a comprehensive literature search that identified 340 relevant articles published between July 2002 and June 2006—the four years following the cessation of the estrogen-progestin arm of the women's health initiative study. Ten authors had published four to six articles, 47 authored two or three articles, and 371 authored one article each. The researchers focused on authors who had published four or more articles in the four-year period under study and, after author names and affiliations were removed, 50 articles were evaluated by three readers for scientific accuracy and for tone. After individually analyzing a batch of articles, the readers met to provide their initial assessments, to discuss them, and to reach consensus on tone and scientific accuracy. Then after the papers were evaluated, each author was identified and the researchers searched for authors' potential financial conflicts of interest, defined as publicly disclosed information that the authors had received payment for research, speaking, or consulting on behalf of a manufacturer of menopausal hormone therapy.
Common themes in the 50 articles included arguments that clinical trial results should not guide treatment for individuals and suggestions that the risks associated with hormone therapy have been exaggerated and that the benefits of hormone therapy have been or will be proven. Furthermore, of the ten authors studied, eight were found to have received payment for research, speaking or consulting on behalf of menopause hormone manufacturers, and 30 of 32 articles evaluated as promoting hormone therapy were authored by those with potential financial conflicts of interest. Articles promoting the use of menopausal hormone therapy were more than twice as likely to have been written by authors with conflicts of interest as by authors without conflicts of interest. Furthermore, Three authors who were identified as having financial conflicts of interest were authors on articles where sections of their previously published articles were repeated word-for-word without citation.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings of this study suggest that there may be a link between receiving industry funding for speaking, consulting, or research and the publication of apparently promotional opinion pieces on menopausal hormone therapy. Furthermore, such publications may encourage physicians to continue prescribing these therapies to women of menopausal age. Therefore, physicians and other health care providers should interpret the content of review articles with caution. In addition, medical journals should follow the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts, which require that all authors submit signed statements of their participation in authorship and full disclosure of any conflicts of interest.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000425.
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more information on the Womens Health Initiative
The US National Institutes of Health provide more information about the effects of menopausal hormone replacement therapy
The Office of Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides information on menopausal hormone therapy
The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts presents Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts published in biomedical journals
The National Womens Health Network, a consumer advocacy group that takes no industry money, has factsheets and articles about menopausal hormone therapy
PharmedOut, a Georgetown University Medical Center project, has many resources on pharmaceutical marketing practices
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000425
PMCID: PMC3058057  PMID: 21423581
20.  Do the print media “hype” genetic research? A comparison of newspaper stories and peer-reviewed research papers 
Background
The public gets most of its information about genetic research from the media. It has been suggested that media representations may involve exaggeration, called “genohype.” To examine the accuracy and nature of media coverage of genetic research, we reviewed the reporting of single-gene discoveries and associated technologies in major daily newspapers in Canada, the United States, Great Britain and Australia.
Methods
We used neutral search terms to identify articles about gene discoveries and associated technologies hosted on the Dow Jones Interactive and Canadian NewsDisk databases from January 1995 to June 2001. We compared the contents, claims and conclusions of the scientific journal article with those of the associated newspaper article. Coders subjectively assigned the newspaper articles to 1 of 3 categories: moderately to highly exaggerated claims, slightly exaggerated claims or no exaggerated claims. We used classification tree software to identify the variables that contributed to the assignment of each newspaper article to 1 of the 3 categories: attention structure (positioning in the newspaper and length of the article), authorship, research topic, source of information other than the scientific paper, type and likelihood of risks and benefits, discussion of controversy, valuation tone (positive or negative), framing (e.g., description of research, celebration of progress, report of economic prospects or ethical perspective), technical accuracy (either omissions or errors that changed the description of the methods or interpretation of the results) and use of metaphors.
Results
We examined 627 newspaper articles reporting on 111 papers published in 24 scientific and medical journals. Only 11% of the newspaper articles were categorized as having moderately to highly exaggerated claims; the majority were categorized as having no claims (63%) or slightly exaggerated claims (26%). The classification analysis ranked the reporting of risks as the most important variable in determining the categorization of newspaper articles. Only 15% of the newspaper articles and 5% of the scientific journal articles discussed costs or risks, whereas 97% of the newspaper articles and 98% of the scientific journal articles discussed the likelihood of benefits of the research.
Interpretation
Our data suggest that the majority of newspaper articles accurately convey the results of and reflect the claims made in scientific journal articles. Our study also highlights an overemphasis on benefits and under-representation of risks in both scientific and newspaper articles. The cause and nature of this trend is uncertain.
doi:10.1503/cmaj.1030762
PMCID: PMC400292  PMID: 15111473
21.  Information from Pharmaceutical Companies and the Quality, Quantity, and Cost of Physicians' Prescribing: A Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(10):e1000352.
Geoff Spurling and colleagues report findings of a systematic review looking at the relationship between exposure to promotional material from pharmaceutical companies and the quality, quantity, and cost of prescribing. They fail to find evidence of improvements in prescribing after exposure, and find some evidence of an association with higher prescribing frequency, higher costs, or lower prescribing quality.
Background
Pharmaceutical companies spent $57.5 billion on pharmaceutical promotion in the United States in 2004. The industry claims that promotion provides scientific and educational information to physicians. While some evidence indicates that promotion may adversely influence prescribing, physicians hold a wide range of views about pharmaceutical promotion. The objective of this review is to examine the relationship between exposure to information from pharmaceutical companies and the quality, quantity, and cost of physicians' prescribing.
Methods and Findings
We searched for studies of physicians with prescribing rights who were exposed to information from pharmaceutical companies (promotional or otherwise). Exposures included pharmaceutical sales representative visits, journal advertisements, attendance at pharmaceutical sponsored meetings, mailed information, prescribing software, and participation in sponsored clinical trials. The outcomes measured were quality, quantity, and cost of physicians' prescribing. We searched Medline (1966 to February 2008), International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (1970 to February 2008), Embase (1997 to February 2008), Current Contents (2001 to 2008), and Central (The Cochrane Library Issue 3, 2007) using the search terms developed with an expert librarian. Additionally, we reviewed reference lists and contacted experts and pharmaceutical companies for information. Randomized and observational studies evaluating information from pharmaceutical companies and measures of physicians' prescribing were independently appraised for methodological quality by two authors. Studies were excluded where insufficient study information precluded appraisal. The full text of 255 articles was retrieved from electronic databases (7,185 studies) and other sources (138 studies). Articles were then excluded because they did not fulfil inclusion criteria (179) or quality appraisal criteria (18), leaving 58 included studies with 87 distinct analyses. Data were extracted independently by two authors and a narrative synthesis performed following the MOOSE guidelines. Of the set of studies examining prescribing quality outcomes, five found associations between exposure to pharmaceutical company information and lower quality prescribing, four did not detect an association, and one found associations with lower and higher quality prescribing. 38 included studies found associations between exposure and higher frequency of prescribing and 13 did not detect an association. Five included studies found evidence for association with higher costs, four found no association, and one found an association with lower costs. The narrative synthesis finding of variable results was supported by a meta-analysis of studies of prescribing frequency that found significant heterogeneity. The observational nature of most included studies is the main limitation of this review.
Conclusions
With rare exceptions, studies of exposure to information provided directly by pharmaceutical companies have found associations with higher prescribing frequency, higher costs, or lower prescribing quality or have not found significant associations. We did not find evidence of net improvements in prescribing, but the available literature does not exclude the possibility that prescribing may sometimes be improved. Still, we recommend that practitioners follow the precautionary principle and thus avoid exposure to information from pharmaceutical companies.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
A prescription drug is a medication that can be supplied only with a written instruction (“prescription”) from a physician or other licensed healthcare professional. In 2009, 3.9 billion drug prescriptions were dispensed in the US alone and US pharmaceutical companies made US$300 billion in sales revenue. Every year, a large proportion of this revenue is spent on drug promotion. In 2004, for example, a quarter of US drug revenue was spent on pharmaceutical promotion. The pharmaceutical industry claims that drug promotion—visits from pharmaceutical sales representatives, advertisements in journals and prescribing software, sponsorship of meetings, mailed information—helps to inform and educate healthcare professionals about the risks and benefits of their products and thereby ensures that patients receive the best possible care. Physicians, however, hold a wide range of views about pharmaceutical promotion. Some see it as a useful and convenient source of information. Others deny that they are influenced by pharmaceutical company promotion but claim that it influences other physicians. Meanwhile, several professional organizations have called for tighter control of promotional activities because of fears that pharmaceutical promotion might encourage physicians to prescribe inappropriate or needlessly expensive drugs.
Why Was This Study Done?
But is there any evidence that pharmaceutical promotion adversely influences prescribing? Reviews of the research literature undertaken in 2000 and 2005 provide some evidence that drug promotion influences prescribing behavior. However, these reviews only partly assessed the relationship between information from pharmaceutical companies and prescribing costs and quality and are now out of date. In this study, therefore, the researchers undertake a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) to reexamine the relationship between exposure to information from pharmaceutical companies and the quality, quantity, and cost of physicians' prescribing.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched the literature for studies of licensed physicians who were exposed to promotional and other information from pharmaceutical companies. They identified 58 studies that included a measure of exposure to any type of information directly provided by pharmaceutical companies and a measure of physicians' prescribing behavior. They then undertook a “narrative synthesis,” a descriptive analysis of the data in these studies. Ten of the studies, they report, examined the relationship between exposure to pharmaceutical company information and prescribing quality (as judged, for example, by physician drug choices in response to clinical vignettes). All but one of these studies suggested that exposure to drug company information was associated with lower prescribing quality or no association was detected. In the 51 studies that examined the relationship between exposure to drug company information and prescribing frequency, exposure to information was associated with more frequent prescribing or no association was detected. Thus, for example, 17 out of 29 studies of the effect of pharmaceutical sales representatives' visits found an association between visits and increased prescribing; none found an association with less frequent prescribing. Finally, eight studies examined the relationship between exposure to pharmaceutical company information and prescribing costs. With one exception, these studies indicated that exposure to information was associated with a higher cost of prescribing or no association was detected. So, for example, one study found that physicians with low prescribing costs were more likely to have rarely or never read promotional mail or journal advertisements from pharmaceutical companies than physicians with high prescribing costs.
What Do These Findings Mean?
With rare exceptions, these findings suggest that exposure to pharmaceutical company information is associated with either no effect on physicians' prescribing behavior or with adverse affects (reduced quality, increased frequency, or increased costs). Because most of the studies included in the review were observational studies—the physicians in the studies were not randomly selected to receive or not receive drug company information—it is not possible to conclude that exposure to information actually causes any changes in physician behavior. Furthermore, although these findings provide no evidence for any net improvement in prescribing after exposure to pharmaceutical company information, the researchers note that it would be wrong to conclude that improvements do not sometimes happen. The findings support the case for reforms to reduce negative influence to prescribing from pharmaceutical promotion.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000352.
Wikipedia has pages on prescription drugs and on pharmaceutical marketing (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
The UK General Medical Council provides guidelines on good practice in prescribing medicines
The US Food and Drug Administration provides information on prescription drugs and on its Bad Ad Program
Healthy Skepticism is an international nonprofit membership association that aims to improve health by reducing harm from misleading health information
The Drug Promotion Database was developed by the World Health Organization Department of Essential Drugs & Medicines Policy and Health Action International Europe to address unethical and inappropriate drug promotion
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000352
PMCID: PMC2957394  PMID: 20976098
22.  Tradition and Perspectives of Arab Herbal Medicine: A Review 
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), including herbal medicine, are popular in the general population worldwide. Parallel to the increasing interest in ‘modern’ CAM therapies and the historical importance of Arab medicine, there is also a similar trend in research activities dealing with the efficacy and safety of medicinal plants in our region. Historical and current studies and surveys indicate that the Eastern region of the Mediterranean has been distinguished throughout the generations with a rich inventory of natural medicinal herbs. It is well documented that indigenous Arab medicine has contributed greatly to the development of modern medicine in Europe and remains one of the closest forms of original European medicine. The rapid increase in consumption of herbal remedies worldwide has been stimulated by several factors, including the notion that all herbal products are safe and effective. This article presents a systematic review on traditional Arab medicine including historical background, medical innovations introduced by Arab physicians in the field of safety and efficacy of herbal medicine and a state-of-the-art description of traditional Arab herbal medicine in the Mediterranean region.
doi:10.1093/ecam/neh133
PMCID: PMC1297506  PMID: 16322804
Arab herbal medicine; in vitro and in vivo complementary medicine; toxicity and efficacy
23.  The roles of herbal remedies in survival and quality of life among long-term breast cancer survivors - results of a prospective study 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:222.
Background
Few data exist on survival or health-related quality of life (QOL) related to herbal remedy use among long-term breast cancer survivors. The objective of this report is to examine whether herbal remedy use is associated with survival or the health-related QOL of these long-term breast cancer survivors.
Methods
In 1999-2000, we collected the information of herbal remedy use and QOL during a telephone interview with 371 Los Angeles Non-Hispanic/Hispanic white women who had survived more than 10 years after breast cancer diagnosis. QOL was measured using the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36 (SF-36) questionnaire. Patients were followed for mortality from the baseline interview through 2007. 299 surviving patients completed a second telephone interview on QOL in 2002-2004. We used multivariable Cox proportional hazards methods to estimate relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for mortality and applied multivariable linear regression models to compare average SF-36 change scores (follow-up - baseline) between herbal remedy users and non-users.
Results
Fifty-nine percent of participants were herbal remedy users at baseline. The most commonly used herbal remedies were echinacea, herbal teas, and ginko biloba. Herbal remedy use was associated with non-statistically significant increases in the risks for all-cause (44 deaths, RR = 1.28, 95% CI = 0.62-2.64) and breast cancer (33 deaths, RR = 1.78, 95% CI = 0.72-4.40) mortality. Both herbal remedy users' and non-users' mental component summary scores on the SF-36 increased similarly from the first survey to the second survey (P = 0.16), but herbal remedy users' physical component summary scores decreased more than those of non-users (-5.7 vs. -3.2, P = 0.02).
Conclusions
Our data provide some evidence that herbal remedy use is associated with poorer survival and a poorer physical component score for health-related QOL among women who have survived breast cancer for at least 10 years. These conclusions are based on exploratory analyses of data from a prospective study using two-sided statistical tests with no correction for multiple testing and are limited by few deaths for mortality analysis and lack of information on when herbal remedy use was initiated or duration of or reasons for use.
doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-222
PMCID: PMC3126792  PMID: 21645383
herb; breast cancer; survival; mortality; QOL
24.  Online health information – what the newspapers tell their readers: a systematic content analysis 
BMC Public Health  2014;14:1316.
Background
This study investigated the nature of newspaper reporting about online health information in the UK and US. Internet users frequently search for health information online, although the accuracy of the information retrieved varies greatly and can be misleading. Newspapers have the potential to influence public health behaviours, but information has been lacking in relation to how newspapers portray online health information to their readers.
Methods
The newspaper database Nexis®UK was searched for articles published from 2003 – 2012 relating to online health information. Systematic content analysis of articles published in the highest circulation newspapers in the UK and US was performed. A second researcher coded a 10% sample to establish inter-rater reliability of coding.
Results
In total, 161 newspaper articles were included in the analysis. Publication was most frequent in 2003, 2008 and 2009, which coincided with global threats to public health. UK broadsheet newspapers were significantly more likely to cover online health information than UK tabloid newspapers (p = 0.04) and only one article was identified in US tabloid newspapers. Articles most frequently appeared in health sections. Among the 79 articles that linked online health information to specific diseases or health topics, diabetes was the most frequently mentioned disease, cancer the commonest group of diseases and sexual health the most frequent health topic. Articles portrayed benefits of obtaining online health information more frequently than risks. Quotations from health professionals portrayed mixed opinions regarding public access to online health information. 108 (67.1%) articles directed readers to specific health-related web sites. 135 (83.9%) articles were rated as having balanced judgement and 76 (47.2%) were judged as having excellent quality reporting. No difference was found in the quality of reporting between UK and US articles.
Conclusions
Newspaper coverage of online health information was low during the 10-year period 2003 to 2012. Journalists tended to emphasise the benefits and understate the risks of online health information and the quality of reporting varied considerably. Newspapers directed readers to sources of online health information during global epidemics although, as most articles appeared in the health sections of broadsheet newspapers, coverage was limited to a relatively small readership.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-1316) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-1316
PMCID: PMC4326503  PMID: 25532562
Newspapers; Newspaper article; Internet; Health information; Online health information
25.  Patient-Centered Research 
PURPOSE
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) can be defined as medical practices not taught widely at US medical schools or generally available at US hospitals. National studies suggest that between 30–40% of the general US population use CAM. These users tend to be more educated, have higher incomes, and are more likely to be between the ages of 30–49. However, to date, no study has documented the use of CAM among the homebound population, patients who are usually elderly, debilitated, and have less access to medical care. We studied the use of alternative therapies in homebound patients of the Mount Sinai Visiting Doctors Program serving the inner city of New York.
METHODS
Eligibility for the study was limited to patients who are in the Visiting Doctors Program, and whose mini-mental status exam score was greater than 20 or who were deemed competent to complete the survey by their primary care provider. Participant's CAM use was assessed by a survey administered by an interviewer at the patient's home.
RESULTS
Forty-nine consecutive, eligible patients were interviewed and a survey completed. Among the respondents, 84% were women, the mean age was 78.6 (STD = 14.1). Respondents were 51% Caucasian, 27% African-American, 14% Hispanic and 8% other. On rating their own health, 69% rated it as poor to fair, 22% rated it as good, and 8% rated it as very good to excellent. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents reported using one or more CAM in the past 12 months. Commonly used CAM included: vitamins/minerals (33%) [excluding MVI, calcium], spiritual healing (27%), and herbal remedies (20%). Spiritual healing included prayer and faith healing. The most common herbal remedies were garlic, ginger, and chamomile tea. Among CAM users, their main sources of information about CAM came from their own physicians (32%), family/friends/co-workers (18%), and newspaper/radio/TV (18%).
CONCLUSION
The use of CAM in this elderly, debilitated, homebound population was significantly higher than that of the general population. It is especially important for physicians who care for homebound patients to be aware of and discuss the use of CAM. Clinicians can then better understand any potential associated health consequences and help their patients make informed decisions about their CAM use.
doi:10.1046/j.1525-1497.2000.15200-11.x
PMCID: PMC1495736

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