Finding the upside of failed clinical trials

Forbes reported that Astra Zeneca sponsored a drug trial where their lipid-lowering drug, Crestor, went head-to-head with Pfizer's Lipitor, a strange battle from the start since many considered Lipitor the underdog in the battle. But the results showed no difference in outcome, which for this study was how blockages in the arteries of the heart progressed after treatment. In other words, the trial resulted in a draw, and delivered a huge blow to Crestor, since it will retain its patent, and associated high price tag, until 2016, while Lipitor's constituant, atorvastatin, will be available as a generic this week at a fraction of the price of the brand-name cholesterol-lowering meds (

This story was intriguing in many ways. First, I think it's great that the researchers published the results of the study, which Astra Zeneca funded, in the New England Journal of Medicine. It would have no doubt been much easier to sweep these results under the carpet, where they'd join the other dark data of failed clinical trials (

Second, I think it's important to set a precedence that drugs intended to treat the same condition go head-to-head in properly designed clinical trials. As consumers and patients, we deserve to know how each treatment measures up.

So kudos to Astra Zeneca for taking the high road. The results of the trial will cost the company money in terms of decreased sales. But they made infinite strides in forging a transparent relationship with their customers.

Photo via Flickr / Grumpy-Puddin

Brian Mossop is currently the Community Editor at Wired, where he works across the brand, both magazine and website, to build and maintain strong social communities. Brian received a BS in Electrical Engineering from Lafayette College, and a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University in 2006. His postdoctoral work was in neuroscience at UCSF and Genentech.

Brian has written about science for Wired, Scientific American, Slate, Scientific American MIND, and elsewhere. He primarily cover topics on neuroscience, development, behavior change, and health.

Contact Brian at, on Twitter (@bmossop), or visit his personal website.