Conflict of interest

Steve Simon


Does having a commercial interest in the results of a drug trial cause a problem for the people running the trial? If it does, then much of the research that we rely on could be flawed. A recent article in the British Medical Journal raises some serious concerns.

Efficacy and safety of antidepressants for children and adolescents. Jureidini JN, Doecke CJ, Mansfield PR, Haby MM, Menkes DB, Tonkin AL. Bmj 2004: 328(7444); 879-83. [Medline] [Full text] [PDF] [See Correction for this article]

The eletters section of this paper is fascinating as various authors argue back and forth about the quality of the evidence.

The use of antidepressants in children is fraught with controversy. The Association for Human Research Protection ( has issued some stinging criticisms of the pharmaceutical industry that are well worth reading.

As I noted in my June 25 entry, Eliot Spitzer, the New York Attorney General, has sued a major pharmaceutical company for failing to properly report adverse events and negative trials.

When a potential conflict of interest is brought to your attention, you need to approach the research cautiously, and you should rightly demand extra evidence. Don’t turn into a statistical nihilist, though, and disregard any research with a potential conflict of interest.

What the recent findings about anti-depressants do show is that perhaps our skeptical signal detector ought to be on at full power when there is a commercial interest involved.

You can find an earlier version of this page on my original website.