June 2018, Ravi Katari, Alex Provan, and Dean Baker

The United States spent an estimated $540 billion on prescription drugs and medical equipment in 2017 ($450 billion on prescription drugs alone). Clinical trials which evaluate prescription drugs and new devices prior to their entrance on the market are usually financed and sometimes even carried out by the company holding the intellectual property rights to the technology in question. This is problematic for several reasons. There is an obvious incentive to conceal or underreport trial data which could be harmful to a drug’s sales potential or reputation.

Our study seeks to briefly characterize the data made available through ClinicalTrials.gov in order to better understand what information is available to prescribers and investigators not involved in the marketing of the drug or device. In doing so, we underscore the potentially enormous value of publicly funding clinical trials in terms of both patient safety and economic cost.

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