Absence of Evidence: How Big Pharma Spins the Data

Absence of evidence

Nov 27th 2008 | NEW YORK
From The Economist print edition

Do drug firms suppress unfavourable information about new products?


RICHARD FEYNMAN, a Nobel-prize-winning physicist, declared in a speech in 1974 that science requires “a kind of utter honesty”. He insisted that researchers must publicise all the outcomes of their work, and “not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another”. To judge by the mounting evidence of publication bias involving studies on new drugs, his words have not yet reached the pharmaceuticals industry.

A study published this week in PLoS Medicine, an online journal, confirms what many have suspected and what previous studies have hinted at: drug companies try to spin the results of clinical trials. If this were done merely in marketing materials, it might be tolerable. What Lisa Bero of the University of California, San Francisco, and her colleagues found, however, was troubling evidence of suppression and manipulation of data in studies published in (or often withheld from) peer-reviewed medical journals.

A New Class of Small RNA Molecules Found at CSHL

The vast bulk of the DNA in our genomes does not “code” for the specific RNA molecules that serve as templates for protein synthesis, but nevertheless performs various other kinds of work.   At Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory David L. Spector, Ph.D., has lead studies of events within the cell nucleus, where the genetic material is contained. In the November 26th issue of Cell, Spector and a team led by graduate student Jeremy Wilusz report their discovery of a previously unknown mechanism in the nucleus that processes non-coding RNA molecules.   Read the details in Cell.

Lemur Genome May Provide HIV Insights

ScienceDaily (Dec. 2, 2008) — The genome of a lemur from Madagascar may provide new understanding how HIV-like viruses coevolved with primates.  The discovery published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could provide insight into why non-human primates don’t get AIDS and lead to treatments for humans.  Rob Gifford, PhD, researcher in infectious diseases and geographical medicine is lead author of the new study.   Gifford searched primate species DNA for strings of nucleotides that matched the modern lentivirus genome and found one lurking in the DNA of the tiny gray mouse lemur.  Gifford’s work on lentivirus-primate interaction might open doors for HIV/AIDS research.

Complex Anchor Molecules Promote Infection

Anchor molecule capturing prion

Anchor molecule capturing prion

 Glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) molecules may be responsible for promoting infection by prion molecules, causing changes to its configuration from harmless to harmful, and making additional prions fold to cause illness.  A German-Swiss research team led by Peter Seeberger, ETH Zurich Professor for Organic Chemistry, and Christian Becker, Professor at the Protein Chemistry Laboratory of the Technical University of Munich have been the first to artificially replicate the molecule complex’s complicated structure in the laboratory.   This breakthrough means that prion researchers can now at last investigate the role of the GPI anchor and its appended prion in more detail to discover whether the GPI really does have an effect on the folding of the prion and its resulting pathogenic properties.    Report of this research may be found in Angewandte Chemie.

Recommended Readings: Steven McKnight, Ph.D.

Friday Lecture Series

Regulatory Logic of the Yeast Metabolic Cycle

Steven McKnight, Ph.D.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical School

3:15 pm – Refreshments, Abby Lounge

3:45 pm – 5:00 pm – Lecture

Friday, December 12, 2008

Caspary Auditorium

Recommended Articles:

Tu, B. P., and S. L. McKnight. 2007. The yeast metabolic cycle: Insights into the life of a eukaryotic cell. Cold Spring Harbor symposia on quantitative biology. 72:339-343.  (Copy available at Markus Library)

Chen, Z., and S. L. McKnight. 2007. A conserved DNA damage response pathway responsible for coupling the cell division cycle to the circadian and metabolic cycles. Cell Cycle. 6(23)2906-2912.

Tu, B. P., R. E. Mohler, J. C. Liu, K. M. Dombek, E. T. Young, R. E. Synovec, and S. L. McKnight. 2007. Cyclic changes in metabolic state during the life of a yeast cell. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 104(43)16886-16891.

Tu, B. P., and S. L. McKnight. 2006. Metabolic cycles as an underlying basis of biological oscillations. Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology. 7(9)696-701.

Tu, B. P., A. Kudlicki, M. Rowicka, and S. L. McKnight. 2005. Cell biology: Logic of the yeast metabolic cycle: Temporal compartmentalization of cellular processes. Science. 310(5751)1152-1158.
Tu, B. P. 2006. Erratum: Logic of the yeast metabolic cycle: Temporal compartmentalization of cellular processes (Science (november 18, 2005) (1152)). Science. 311(5763)954.

Chen, Z., E. A. Odstrcil, B. P. Tu, and S. L. McKnight. 2007. Restriction of DNA replication to the reductive phase of the metabolic cycle protects genome integrity. Science. 316(5833)1916-1919.

Rutter, J., Reick, M., and McKnight, S. L. Metabolism and the control of circadian rhythms. Annual Review of Biochemistry. 71:307-331