Clinical Trial Goes Horribly Wrong, Leaves One Dead

Photographed by Jessica Nash.
Update: AFP reports that the man who slipped into a coma following this drug trail has passed away.

This story was originally published on January 15.

Drug trials certainly don't always go the way we expect, but they don't usually go this badly: One person is in a coma and five others are in critical condition after participating in a French clinical drug trial, the BBC reports.

In a statement, Biotrial, the company conducting the trial said it had encountered a "serious adverse event," and that the health ministry in France had been contacted. But it's unclear how many people were participating in the trial. The Guardian reported that the trial was looking at a painkiller containing cannabinoids, compounds found in cannabis, but the health ministry has denied that claim.

In a phase one trial, researchers are looking only at the new drug's safety. So, of course, sometimes people have unexpected bad reactions to things — finding them is exactly what the trial is for. But those researchers conducting the trial also have a responsibility to the brave souls who participate to make sure there aren't any disasters even close to this magnitude.

As Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients, tweeted this morning, one huge problem in clinical trials is that negative preclinical and early clinical data is often hidden. And that could make awful situations like these more common simply because researchers don't know the risks of what they're giving people. Transparency in medicine is always important, but it's especially needed when we're talking about life and death.

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