How a Clinical Trial Registry Became a Symbol of Misinformation


  • Jennifer E. Miller


In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “war against cancer,” stating that “the same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease.” Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, and shortly thereafter the first national registry listing all ongoing clinical trials for cancer therapies was published by the National Cancer Institute. The registry was proposed by Mary Lasker (“a patroness and advocate of clinical research”) to help doctors find open trials in which to enroll their patients and to help researchers maintain a steady supply of research participants. The registry appeared to be a win for doctors, patients, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies alike. However, it ended up exposing corrupt practices and tensions between ethics, the corporate need for profits, and public health goals. How did this happen?