A research paper published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation this month claims that patients worldwide are being deceived into taking drugs they don't need, don't work and put lives at risk.
Co-author of the paper, Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis - Associate Professor at the University of Sydney said it was ''entirely illogical'' to rely on the pharmaceutical industry to fund medical research.
The Crete-born professor, who is also a senior research associate at University College, London, told Neos Kosmos that whilst industry funding of research was necessary, the model of funding used needs to be radically overhauled.
"The current system creates a culture of dependency between the sponsor of the trial, who wants favourable conclusions for their product, and the academic researcher who does the study, who needs funding to advance their career," said Dr Stamatakis.
''Asking corporate sponsors to conduct pivotal trials on their own products is like asking a painter to judge their own painting to receive an award.''
Dr Stamatakis - whose research interests include exploring how too little exercise affects cardiometabolic and mental health - cites as an example of the problem anti-diabetic drugs that increase the risk of heart problems, despite interventions like physical exercise being more effective.
The anti-diabetic drug Rosiglitazone continues to be available in Australia despite being withdrawn in Europe and New Zealand after thousands of lawsuits were filed against its manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline.
"Rosiglitazone is a good example of the existing regulatory nets being ineffective and slow," says Stamatakis.
"The manufacturer was stockpiling profits and people were dying because of its dangerous side-effects.
"The fact that several countries did not even bother to withdraw it from the market shows that there is a reluctance and limited political courage to go against the industry."
The research paper Dr Stamatakis co-wrote - which includes data from studies in the UK and US as well as Australia - says drug companies "masterfully influenced" every stage of the health system.
After evaluating 600 clinical trials, researchers found that clinical trials funded by pharmaceutical companies were four times more likely to favour the sponsored drug than drugs sponsored by not-for-profits.
The research also showed pharmaceutical companies used flawed evidence of a drug's effectiveness to persuade doctors to prescribe it.
Analysts say Australia is lagging behind other countries in its efforts to limit unethical behaviour by drug companies. In the US, legislation was introduced to allow anyone to look up which doctors receive industry funding.
Stamatakis believes one solution would be to 'blind' the process of the pharmaceutical industry's funding of research.
"Each company could provide funding to a public pool for clinical research. Then an independent organisation could allocate the funding to research institutions on the basis of their ability and research track record," says the associate professor.
"That way academic institutions and researchers would have no reason to please the sponsor of a trial. A government agency could be the moderator in this process. Such a system could be a major step forward.
"Soft steps towards voluntary encouragement will never work. It has to be sorted out with firm legislation - banning direct contact and transactions between doctors and the industry."
A transparency working group has been established by Medicines Australia to identify ways to improve the drug industry's relationship with Australian healthcare professionals. Its recommendations will be published in June.
Rosiglitazone: In July 2011, NPS MEDICINEWISE - an independent not-for-profit which advises Australian health professionals - announced that doctors should contact Medicare for approval of any new or repeat prescription of Rosiglitazone and advised avoiding its prescription to anyone with a risk of cardiovascular problems.