Pharmaceutical companies are under increasing pressure to release previously hidden data on how well their drugs work. The primary push for much greater transparency has come from the Cochrane Collaboration, an international network of experts based in Oxford, England; The British Medical Journal; and the European Medicines Agency, which recently proposed that, starting next year, clinical trial data be released once a drug is approved for marketing.
The saga of Tamiflu, an anti-flu drug produced by Roche, a multinational company based in Switzerland, exemplifies the difficulties of extracting information vital to public health. In mid-2009 a Cochrane researcher was hired by the British and Australian governments to update his previous evaluation of Tamiflu, which had concluded that it reduced the risk of complications from the flu. The information was important because the drug was being stockpiled by the United States and other governments in the belief that it would help people survive a potentially severe epidemic of swine flu.