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UK’s Labour party promises action on hidden clinical trial results

The UK’s largest opposition party has pledged to “support and pioneer international efforts to secure increased transparency of… clinical trials” in the event of winning the next general election.

The pledge forms part of the party’s wider policy on medicines, which was presented to the public by the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in late October.

The results of many clinical trials conducted in the UK are currently not made public. This harms patients, undermines public health, and wastes public money.

According to Labour’s new policy document:

“A systemic lack of transparency of clinical trial data has severe implications not only for the research process, but also for patient health. A 2018 report by the [parliamentary] Science and Technology Select Committee entitled Research integrity: clinical trials transparency highlighted that 50% of clinical trials do not publish any results, presenting risks to human health and increasing research duplication and wastage.”

“The lack of transparency across the pharmaceutical model stifles innovation, and the NHS fails to manage data as a core NHS asset in the healthcare innovation process.”

The UK is now designing a national monitoring system that will check whether clinical trials run on British soil are registered and their results reported. Parliament has called for the system to be coupled with sanctions.

Under the heading “International proposals”, the Labour document pledges to:

“Support and pioneer international efforts to secure increased transparency of industry pricing, R&D and marketing costs, and clinical trials through international forums such as the World Health Assembly and in collaboration with progressive governments in Europe and across the Global South.”

The passages on clinical trial transparency are only a small part of Labour's policy paper, which largely focuses on measures to make drugs more affordable.

Where do other UK political parties stand on the issue?

Conservatives. To the best of TranspariMED’s knowledge, the Conservative party does not have a formal position on clinical trial transparency.

Liberal Democrats. Parliament’s most vocal transparency advocate is the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Norman Lamb MP, a Liberal Democrat. However, neither his party’s 2017 manifesto nor its more recent draft health policy mention the issue.

Plaid Cymru. To date, the only other UK political party to formally support clinical trial transparency has been the Welsh regional party Plaid Cymru, which signed up to the AllTrials campaign years ago.

Cross-party consensus? The Science and Technology Committee, which is working hard to keep the issue on the political agenda, is comprised of members from all three main parties. None of these individuals has publicly opposed the new transparency measures proposed by the Committee.

Broken transparency promises in the United States

In 2016, then Vice President Joe Biden promised to cut funding to institutions that fail to post clinical trial results as required by law.

According to STAT News, Biden said at the time that:

“Under the law, it says you must report. If you don’t report, the law says you shouldn’t get funding... I’m going to find out if it’s true, and if it’s true, I’m going to cut funding. That’s a promise.”

Three years later, a report by UAEM and TranspariMED documented that 25 out of 40 major US universities were still violating the law. None of them had suffered funding cuts.

(However, following wide media coverage of the report, some of the worst offenders considerably improved their reporting performance. Several have since uploaded all missing trial results.)

Note: TranspariMED does not support, or receive support from, any political party.

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