Why Opening Up Clinical Trials Data Is Good For Pharma Companies

Glyn Moody | TechDirt | November 5, 2013

Earlier this year we wrote about how AbbVie, the pharma company spun out of Abbott Laboratories, had gone to court to stop the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from releasing clinical trials information about one of its drugs. Despite what AbbVie claimed, this was not commercially sensitive in any way, but simply basic data about safety and efficacy.

It's often overlooked that this data is mostly obtained by testing new drugs on volunteer members of the public who take the medicines in order to establish their safety. By definition, these volunteers are putting themselves at risk. They selflessly offer to do that in order to advance medicine and confer benefits on society as a whole. That means the clinical data obtained from such tests belongs to the public that made them possible, at least from a moral viewpoint.

If a company seeks to prevent the free dissemination of that safety data, as AbbVie is doing in Europe, it is breaking the implicit compact it made with the people who agreed to try out its drugs. Those invited to take part in future trials of AbbVie's drugs might then begin to ask why they should endanger their health and even lives purely to boost one company's profits...

...We know this approach works, because it is precisely what we see in the field of open source. Sharing the code freely creates a level playing-field that allows companies to innovate faster because they can build on the work of others. The rise of a multi-billion dollar software industry based around such sharing, and the unprecedented rate of innovation this drives, are yet more reasons that companies like AbbVie should be striving to promote, not prevent, the release and dissemination of clinical trials information as open data.