Think studies of new drugs in the New England Journal of Medicine are unassailable? Experts are beginning to wonder, because pharmaceutical companies pay academics to conduct many of those studies—and the approval of high-profile drugs like Vioxx, Avandia, and Celebrex has led to thousands of deaths, the Washington Post reports. There's no proof that academics paid by Big Pharma altered their findings, and drug companies insist they play fair, but one analysis shows that industry-sponsored studies are 3.6 times more likely to approve a drug. "Unfortunately, the entire evidence base has been perverted," says a Yale professor.
What's more, drug companies are moving trials from nonprofit academic hospitals to for-profit organizations—where, critics say, corporate influence is far more likely. A Senate investigation into GlaxoSmithKline has already uncovered evidence that the company influenced studies of its diabetes drug, Avandia, to disguise potential heart dangers. And Journal editor Jeffrey Drazen is caught in the middle: "I lie awake at night because I know somebody somewhere is trying to pull a fast one on me," he says. "Have we plugged every leak?" One proposed solution: forcing drug companies to release all of their findings, pro and con—a move now being promoted by the European Medicines Agency.