It should be no surprise to anyone that flawed medical research can lead to flawed medical treatments that may be ineffective or even dangerous or deadly to patients. Flawed medical research and flawed results from that research may be due to many reasons but one of the most egregious and sinister reasons for bad medical research may be based on “where the money comes from.”
Here’s A Possible Example
The large medical device manufacturer Medtronic, Inc. (“Medtronic”) earned billions of dollars from its spinal bone graft product called Infuse. Early studies of Infuse were authored by individuals who earned between $1 million to $23 million annually in royalties, consulting fees, and in other compensation from Medtronic. Those early studies may have played down the risks of Infuse and played up the benefits of Infuse.
In June, 2011, an examination of the data that were used to gain approval of Infuse ten years earlier found that the evidence of the benefits of Infuse over the existing alternatives for most patients was questionable. Furthermore, a review of other published research found that the risk of complications from Infuse (which include cancer and male sterility) was 10 to 15 times higher than reported in the 13 industry-sponsored studies. Medtronic has subsequently paid researchers at Yale University to review the data and the results of that review are pending.
Did the financial interests of the authors of the industry-sponsored studies deliberately or unintentionally affect the results of those studies? What effects have the results of the early studies had on patient treatment and patient outcomes that may have been different if alternative treatments had been used?
Many people hold medical researchers in high esteem, believing that they are on the same plane as Florence Nightingale (the nineteenth century English nurse who selflessly and tirelessly tended to battlefield wounded during the Crimean War without regard to her own safety). Some medical researchers may be working tirelessly and selflessly without regard to financial renumeration to help find treatments and cures for medical scourges that inflict terrible pain and debilitation on their victims. To all of those medical researchers who fit in this category, we solute and praise you for your efforts, compassion, and concern that often go unnoticed and unrewarded by the general public.
However, to those medical researchers and their employers for whom the financial incentive is a major driving force behind their research efforts, we ask them to stop and re-focus their attention and efforts on the medical good that they can potentially provide in their communities and to humanity in general. There is nothing wrong with being financially rewarded for one’s dedication and passion for medical research, but if the siren call of the Almighty Dollar resides in the consciousness or unconsciousness of medical researchers, their research results, findings, and conclusions may be deliberately or unintentionally skewed, resulting in possible harm suffered by those they intended to help. After all, we are all only human.
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