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Most Drug Studies Don't Help Docs Pick Best Treatment
Date:3/9/2010

The problem? Available meds ignored in favor of drugs in the pipeline, review finds

TUESDAY, March 9 (HealthDay News) -- Less than one-third of drug studies published in major medical journals answer the fundamental question of which of the range of available medications works best for a particular condition.

So concludes the first wide-scale look at so-called "comparative effectiveness" studies, where experts seek to determine which available medicine is likely to prove most cost-effective for patients. The findings are published in the March 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A focus on comparative effectiveness has been a hallmark of the federal government's attempts to gain the most from scarce health-care dollars, and in 2009 Congress earmarked over $1 billion for this type of research.

But the new report found that just 32 percent of the 328 drug studies reviewed involved comparisons of medicines that were currently available. The rest involved either drugs in development, or they pitted available drugs against no treatment or a placebo. The studies appeared in six of the leading medical journals between June 2008 and September 2009.

"Research on new therapies is critical for scientific advancement, but we also need data that will help doctors use existing therapies appropriately," study author Dr. Michael Hochman, of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, explained in a news release from the Cambridge Health Alliance.

"We need research that addresses questions such as: Which of the more than 30 blood pressure medications on the market works best and in whom?" Hochman said. "Are certain diets and exercise regimens as good as medications for controlling cholesterol? Is it safe to aim for normal blood sugar levels when treating patients with diabetes? Such information is critical for day-to-day medical decision-making."

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