The third conference is on the CATIE and ALLHAT trials, the large comparative studies of antipsychotic and hypertensive medications. These studies are taking a real beating, I have to say. Herbert Meltzer of Vanderbilt took on the CATIE work, saying that its design was too complex and tried to do too many things at once. He pointed out that the study's results - that older and newer antipsychotics were essentially equivalent - is very much at odds with evidence-based medicine. He says that its conclusions haven't had that much effect with clinicians, because it's so at variance with their experience.
Michael Weber of SUNY-Downstate has a lot of bad things to say about the ALLHAT study, too. He points out that the HAT part stood for "Heart Attack Treatment", and that although the diuretic treatment group showed somewhat better blood pressure data, the heart attack outcomes were no different. His other surprising claim was that a large number of African-American trial subjects ended up in groups that did not meet the best standard of care for that population, and asked what would have happened if a drug company ran a similar trial. He was clearly frustrated with the initial coverage of the results in places like the New York Times, which he said were the result of a very well-planned press offensive by the study's authors.
Ralph Snyderman of Duke spoke about the problem of working on complex diseases that aren't driven by a single molecular defect (which, more and more, is what we're left to work on). These things are terribly heterogeneous, on more than one level - for instance, referring to his specialty, he said that as far as he's concerned rheumatoid arthritis is at least three diseases, and perhaps as many as six or seven.
Susan Horn of the Institute for Clinical Outcomes Research made the case for "practice-based medicine", trying to work out the real-world effects of compounds after they've been launched. Meltzer wasn't so sure about how well these sorts of studies replicate, though.
In other news, Matt Herper of Forbes has reluctantly admitted that he doesn't find medical journals to be the most exciting reading in the world - his challenge is turning these results into things that people will read voluntarily. He had a great quote about the difficulty of turning ambiguity into a story, mimicing an editor: "What you you mean these experts don't know? Call them back and get them to tell you!"
Post updated in sections - I've been recharging my laptop batteries - DBL