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

p>Relatively few studies (11 percent) compared an existing drug to non-pharmacological interventions (for example, exercise/diet or surgery) and less than one-third focused on different medication approaches (for example, achieving an optimal blood sugar level in patients with diabetes).

"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?" senior author Dr. Danny McCormick, primary care physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in the news release.

Only 19 percent of the studies reviewed focused on drug safety, and just 2 percent provided data on cost-effectiveness, which would be of great help to patients, physicians and public or private insurers, the researchers noted.

Why do so few drug studies involve available medicines? According to the authors, most such trials are funded by pharmaceutical companies, which are more interested in getting new, marketable products on drugstore shelves. In fact, 90 percent of comparative effectiveness studies were funded by non-industry sources, such as non-profit foundations or governmental agencies.

"Many of our nation's research priorities are driven by the pharmaceutical industry," said Hochman, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck. "These companies, not surprisingly, focus most of their attention on new therapies. If we hope to increase the amount and improve the quality of comparative effectiveness studies, the funding will most likely need to come from government institutions."

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There's more on comparative effectiveness research at the

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