News roundup From British Medical Journal
Only 6% of drug advertising material is supported
Heidelberg Annette Tuffs
A new study of the advertising material
and marketing brochures sent out by drug companies to GPs in Germany has shown that about 94% of the information in them has
no basis in scientific evidence.
The study, carried out by the Institute
for Evidence-Based Medicine, a private independent research institute in Cologne, evaluated 175 brochures containing information
on 520 drugs, which were either sent by post or handed out to 43 GPs since last June. The study was published in this month’s
issue of the drugs bulletin Arznei Telegramm (2004;35:21-3; www.di-em.de/data/at_2004_35_21.pdf).
About 15% of the brochures did not contain
any citations, while the citations listed in another 22% could not be found. In the remaining 63% the information was mostly
correctly connected with the relevant research articles but did not reflect their results. Only 6% of the brochures contained
statements that were scientifically supported by identifiable literature.
The evaluation was done by two specially
trained and independently acting reviewers. In cases of doubt a third reviewer was involved.
"This is the first study in Germany evaluating
the quality of drug advertising material," says Thomas Kaiser, a scientist at the institute who published the study together
with Peter Sawicki and other colleagues.
He points out that the advertising material
presents distorted images of the drugs’ profiles. The article lists several examples of misrepresentation: medical guidelines
from scientific societies are misquoted or changed, the side effects of drugs are minimised, groups of patient are wrongly
defined, study results are suppressed, treatment effects are exaggerated, risks are manipulated, and effects of drugs were
drawn from animal studies.
The authors warn that such a high amount
of misinformation puts patients’ health at risk. Studies from other countries have shown that doctors tend to base their
decisions on the information and advertising material sent out by drug companies. Therefore, the authors conclude, an independent
institution should be established to monitor the content of such material.
Ÿ The German drug industry has decided to tighten the rules in its self regulatory code on relations between the
industry and the medical profession with regard to cooperation in clinical studies and attendance at conferences that are
funded by drug companies.
The German Association of Research Based
Pharmaceutical Companies in Berlin announced that its members have set up an independent tribunal in Berlin. Members of the
tribunal will be chosen by drug companies and doctors’ and patients’ groups but will not be elected representatives
of those bodies. Like a court, the tribunal will be able to punish companies that break the rules, imposing fines of up to
€50 000 (£34 000; $63 000) or, in the case of a second offence, up to €250 000. Anyone will be allowed to notify
the tribunal of possible offences.
The initiative was the industry’s
reaction to the German government’s threat to install an executive against corruption. Doctors’ associations have
also tightened their rules on corruption.
BMJ 2004;328:485 (28 February), doi:10.1136/bmj.328.7438.485-a