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Wednesday 26th October 2016

Is the genie out of the bottle?

10th March 2008

I wonder if the team from the University of Hull realised how much of a storm they would be creating when they published the findings of their research on anti-depressants in the Public Library of Science (www.plos.org).

The story featured on the front page of four UK national newspapers (The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent and The Times), was the leading item on the BBC News and prompted stories in Time, the Wall Street Journal and the Economist.

Many of the papers simplified the findings into a single statement: "Anti-depressants do not work". This does misrepresent slightly the actual findings of the trial which showed that anti-depressants have no clinically significant benefit over a placebo for most patients.

However, this was not the most important point. What emerged from this publication was the fact that substantial trial data - conducted by drug companies - never sees the light of day. In other words, drug companies can choose what results to make public; in this case only a request under the US Freedom of Information legislation brought the results to public attention. The question now is this: with the genie out of the bottle, will we be able to insist that companies release all trial results?


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