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Originally published August 4 2010

Few drug studies offer comparative findings

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) The bulk of drug studies conducted focus only on whether or not a drug produces a desired effect and not on whether it is more effective than other treatments, according to a study conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Southern California and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Many of our nation's research priorities are driven by the pharmaceutical industry," researcher Michael Hochman said. "These companies, not surprisingly, focus most of their attention on new therapies."

President Obama and Congress have proposed that the nation cut back on excessive health care spending by promoting research into which therapies are most cost effective. Yet according to the new study, which reviewed 328 drug trials published in major medical journals, only one-third of all drug studies compared a drug being tested to anything other than a placebo.

Of these, 43 percent compared the drug to a different drug, with only 19 percent evaluating drug safety, 15 percent comparing different drug dosages, 11 percent comparing a drug to a non-drug therapy, and 2 percent analyzing a drug's cost effectiveness.

"Most of the comparative effectiveness studies we reviewed simply tested whether medication 'x' is better than medication 'y,' rather than addressing fundamental questions such as: How can we use this medication more effectively? When is this medication better than surgery? Which among two effective approaches is the safest?" lead researcher Danny McCormick said.

In an accompanying commentary, Alec O'Connor of the University of Rochester noted that the absence of comparative studies may mislead doctors and patients into using more expensive, less effective treatments -- as in the case of new diabetes drugs that do not work as well as older, generic versions.

"Given the continued progress of science, approval of a new drug or device [may falsely imply] to physicians and the general public that the product represents an advance over older treatments," O'Connor wrote. "For example, if a new medication to treat depression is approved based only on placebo comparisons, it's very difficult to know how the new drug compares with the dozens of medications already approved for depression."

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