Opinion: Deadly legacy refuses to die

The consequences of flawed clinical research continue to cause damage in children

Hilary Ayshford
Managing Editor

Measles is still a major killer of children, causing around 430 deaths a day worldwide. Last year in England and Wales there were 2,016 confirmed cases, but this looks set to be surpassed in 2013 with the current outbreak in Wales already exceeding a thousand cases.

Even though the paper that initiated concerns about the MMR jab in the 1990s has long been discredited, the legacy lives on, with more than a million children in the UK alone, mainly between the ages of 10 and 16, thought to be unprotected. Although vaccination rates have risen in recent years, coverage is still below the level required to confer herd immunity.

The mythical link between MMR and autism is perpetuated by organisations advocating single vaccines on the basis of no evidence other than ill-informed stories in the popular press. The fact that they charge significant sums for these single vaccinations is, of course, entirely coincidental.

The AllTrials initiative is campaigning for the publication of full clinical study reports from all clinical trials on all treatments currently being used. Furthermore, it wants universities, ethics committees and medical bodies to recognise that under-reporting of trials is misconduct and to police their own members to ensure compliance. The campaign was given weight recently when GSK announced its support.

A further blow for clinical trial transparency was struck last month when a man in the UK was sent to prison following the first prosecution by the MHRA under the Good Laboratory Practice Regulations 1999 regulations. Aptuit informed the MHRA that it had identified serious irregularities involving changing or providing false analytical data that ensured an experiment was deemed successful when in fact it had failed.

If action can be taken to close down Internet pharmacies supplying fake medicines and to jail those falsifying trial data, why is the propagation of misleading, spurious and ultimately damaging information allowed to continue unchecked?