The study would come to be called “cursed,” but it started out just as Study 15.
It was a long-term trial of the antipsychotic drug Seroquel. The common wisdom in psychiatric circles was that newer drugs were far better than older drugs, but Study 15’s results suggested otherwise.
As a result, newly unearthed documents show, Study 15 suffered the same fate as many industry-sponsored trials that yield data drugmakers don’t like: It got buried. It took eight years before a taxpayer-funded study rediscovered what Study 15 had found — and raised serious concerns about an entire new class of expensive drugs.
Study 15 was silenced in 1997, the same year Seroquel was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat schizophrenia. The drug went on to be prescribed to hundreds of thousands of patients around the world and has earned billions for London-based AstraZeneca International — including nearly $12 billion in the past three years.
The results of Study 15 were never published or shared with doctors, even as less rigorous studies that came up with positive results for Seroquel were published and used in marketing campaigns aimed at physicians and in television ads aimed at consumers. The results of Study 15 were provided only to the Food and Drug Administration — and the agency has strenuously maintained that it does not have the authority to place such studies in the public domain.