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Hiding negative trials by pooling them: a secondary analysis of pooled-trials publication bias in FDA-registered antidepressant trials

  • Ymkje Anna de Vries (a1) (a2), Annelieke M. Roest (a1) (a2), Erick H. Turner (a3) (a4) and Peter de Jonge (a1) (a2)

Abstract

Background

Previous studies on reporting bias generally examined whether trials were published in stand-alone publications. In this study, we investigated whether pooled-trials publications constitute a specific form of reporting bias. We assessed whether negative trials were more likely to be exclusively published in pooled-trials publications than positive trials and examined the research questions, individual trial results, and conclusions presented in these articles.

Methods

Data from a cohort of 105 randomized controlled trials of 16 antidepressants were extracted from earlier publications and the corresponding Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews. A systematic literature search was conducted to identify pooled-trials publications.

Results

We found 107 pooled-trials publications that reported results of 23 (72%) of 32 trials not published in stand-alone publications. Only two (3.8%) of 54 positive trials were published exclusively in pooled-trials publications, compared with 21 (41.1%) of 51 negative trials (p < 0.001). Thirteen (12%) of 107 publications had as primary aim to present data on the trial's primary research question (drug efficacy compared with placebo). Only four of these publications, reporting on five (22%) trials, presented individual efficacy data for the primary research question. Additionally, only five (5%) of 107 pooled-trials publications had a negative conclusion.

Conclusions

Compared with positive trials, negative trials of antidepressants for depression were much more likely to be reported exclusively in pooled-trials publications. Pooled-trials publications flood the evidence base with often-redundant articles that, instead of addressing the original primary research question, present (positive) results on secondary questions. Therefore, pooled-trials publications distort the apparent risk–benefit profile of antidepressants.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: Ymkje Anna de Vries, E-mail: y.a.de.vries@rug.nl

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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
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