Can We Trust Corporate-Funded Research?

Corporate Involvement in Science Testing

Corporations spend vast sums of money on research into their products to determine that they are safe and effective. While scientists have a professional and ethical duty to present truthful findings, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the source of funding can have both subtle and unsubtle influence on their findings.

In some pharmaceutical lawsuits, attorneys have discovered that data from research funded by drug makers was manipulated to present findings in the most favorable light toward those companies’ products.

For plaintiffs filing suit against big companies, possible funding bias in research is an important avenue that your attorneys need to explore.

Top 10 Corporate R&D Spenders
Company Expenditure
Volkswagen $13.5 billion
Samsung $13.4 billion
Intel $10.6 billion
Microsoft $10.4 billion
Roche $10 billion
Novartis $9.9 billion
Toyota $9.1 billion
Johnson & Johnson $8.2 billion
Google $8 billion
Merck $7.5 billion
Figures represent 2013 expenditures.

The pharmaceutical industry is a high risk, high reward business. Companies put hundreds of millions of dollars on the line when they develop new drugs and bring them to market. Information that raises questions about the safety of these drugs or their efficacy in treating the conditions their makers claim they can help can result in huge losses for these companies.

Institutions or individuals who conduct research into these products on behalf of big pharmaceutical companies may have a substantial financial incentive to produce results that put their patrons’ products in the most favorable light. As a result, the relationship between companies funding research and professionals conducting the research may cause the manipulation of studies to produce favorable results or suppression of negative facts.

Researchers Finding a Way to Skew Results

Scientific American reported on a study conducted by Paul Ridker and Jose Torres in 2006 that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study analyzed cardiovascular trials published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals.

Ridker and Torres found that about 67 percent of studies funded by corporate interests favored the cardiovascular treatment reviewed in the trials. Only 49 percent of studies funded by non-profit foundations or state and federal agencies favored the treatment. Subsequent studies have also found links between corporate-funded research and results favorable to the companies funding that research.

A Washington Post review of the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, found that the publication regularly features articles reporting on research that big companies have great influence over.

The newspaper evaluated 73 articles published between 2011 and 2012. Sixty of those articles were directly funded by drug companies. Fifty of the articles in the journal had co-writers who were employees of drug companies. Thirty-seven had authors who had accepted outside compensation from a drug company.

Lawsuits Started to Investigate Biased Research

Litigation Concerning Biased Research

The academic world isn’t the only place where conflicts of interest between researchers and the companies funding their studies have been examined. Pharmaceutical lawsuits have also uncovered instances where companies have encouraged the manipulation of tests and data to provide favorable results and the suppression of negative information about products. Consider these court cases:

Neurontin Litigation

According to Newsweek, Pfizer, the manufacturer of the drug Neurontinhas paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits related to the medication, which was used for a variety of purposes, including treating migraines. Many of the settlements involve claims that the company marketed Neurontin for conditions it was ineffective in treating, but some also claimed that the company engaged in stalling or stopping publication of negative study results and manipulating trial designs and data to make Neurontin appear more effective than it actually was.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys in these cases also presented evidence that the company commissioned tests but did not publish results that showed Neurontin did not work.

Risperdal Litigation

Dr. David Kessler, former head of the EPA, testified in 2012 that Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals division manipulated data involving safety risks regarding Risperdal, a drug used to treat mental health issues.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, the company conducted a study in 2003 to determine whether Risperdal was related to breast growth in men and boys. Researchers in the study found no link between Risperdal use and gynecomastia. Kessler testified that researchers suppressed information that showed a link between Risperdal and breast growth in men and boys. Kessler testified that Janssen manipulated more than 40 manuscripts and downplayed the risks of Risperdal use.

Following Kessler’s testimony, Johnson & Johnson settled several Risperdal cases. About 18,000 lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson regarding Risperdal, and many are pending to this day.

Different Litigation Types Used in Research

Tobacco Lawsuits

Big tobacco may be the poster child for corporate manipulation of research. In the many lawsuits filed against cigarette companies, researchers have testified multiple times that cigarette makers suppressed research that substances within cigarettes were harmful and addictive. In 1994, the New York Times reported that researchers testified that in the early 80s a major cigarette manufacturer halted research into the addictiveness of nicotine.

Testimony in other tobacco suits found that cigarette manufacturers knew about the severity of health risks associated with smoking years before the general public did and took steps to suppress research highlighting these negative impacts and to manipulate research to provide a rosier view of the industry’s products.

Pharmaceutical Spending: Marketing vs. Research
Company Marketing Expenditure Research Expenditure
Johnson & Johnson 17.5 billion 8.2 billion
Novartis 14.6 billion 9.9 billion
Pfizer 11.4 billion 6.6 billion
GSK 9.9 billion 5.3 billion
Merck 9.5 billion 7.5 billion
Sanofi 9.1 billion 6.3 billion
AstraZeneca 7.3 billion 4.3 billion
Lilly 5.7 billion 5.5 billion
Abbvie 4.3 billion 2.9 billion
Figures represent spending for the 2013 year.

Pharmaceutical Scientist Working in Lab

Lawsuits against big pharmaceutical companies show that research manipulation by pharmaceutical companies is something the general public needs to be concerned about. All too often, we take big companies at their word when they point to research that says their products are safe and will accomplish their intended purpose. The public needs to turn a more critical eye to these claims and follow the advice of famed reporters Woodward & Bernstein and “follow the money.”

How the Scientific Community Is Responding

To its credit, the scientific community is taking steps to address concerns about big companies manipulating or exercising undue influence over research that they fund. Some academic institutions have begun banning faculty from accepting samples, equipment, and other gifts from corporations. Professional research organizations and fellowships are calling for more stringent transparency regarding trial design and sources of funding for studies.

While the scientific community’s action to eliminate real and perceived conflicts of interest between itself and companies funding research is admirable, the fact remains that many products are on the market that have safety and efficacy possibly backed up by flawed science.

Engineer Fixing Medical Research Machine

For plaintiffs involved in lawsuits against companies who can point to studies by impressive institutions and big-name researchers to back up their claims, having an attorney on your side who knows how to examine the data to find funding bias in research will increase your chances of obtaining a settlement or winning at trial. Your attorney must have the resources to find experts who can evaluate the other side’s studies and research and make sure that their data is honest.

Saunders Lawyers offers nationwide representation for victims of intentional or negligent harm by harmful drugs, dangerous products, faulty medical devices, and other defective products. Established in 1987, the firm has been on the front lines in pursuing cases against big pharmaceutical companies, and it stands ready to help you obtain the compensation you may be entitled to.

If you or a loved one have been harmed as a result of dangerous drugs or medical devices, contact Saunders Lawyers today for a free consultation.