Selective publication of antidepressant trials and its influence on apparent efficacy: Updated comparisons and meta-analyses of newer versus older trials

Erick H Turner*, Andrea Cipriani, Toshi A Furukawa, Georgia Salanti, Ymkje Anna de Vries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Valid assessment of drug efficacy and safety requires an evidence base free of reporting bias. Using trial reports in Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug approval packages as a gold standard, we previously found that the published literature inflated the apparent efficacy of antidepressant drugs. The objective of the current study was to determine whether this has improved with recently approved drugs.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: Using medical and statistical reviews in FDA drug approval packages, we identified 30 Phase II/III double-blind placebo-controlled acute monotherapy trials, involving 13,747 patients, of desvenlafaxine, vilazodone, levomilnacipran, and vortioxetine; we then identified corresponding published reports. We compared the data from this newer cohort of antidepressants (approved February 2008 to September 2013) with the previously published dataset on 74 trials of 12 older antidepressants (approved December 1987 to August 2002). Using logistic regression, we examined the effects of trial outcome and trial cohort (newer versus older) on transparent reporting (whether published and FDA conclusions agreed). Among newer antidepressants, transparent publication occurred more with positive (15/15 = 100%) than negative (7/15 = 47%) trials (OR 35.1, CI95% 1.8 to 693). Controlling for trial outcome, transparent publication occurred more with newer than older trials (OR 6.6, CI95% 1.6 to 26.4). Within negative trials, transparent reporting increased from 11% to 47%. We also conducted and contrasted FDA- and journal-based meta-analyses. For newer antidepressants, FDA-based effect size (ESFDA) was 0.24 (CI95% 0.18 to 0.30), while journal-based effect size (ESJournals) was 0.29 (CI95% 0.23 to 0.36). Thus, effect size inflation, presumably due to reporting bias, was 0.05, less than for older antidepressants (0.10). Limitations of this study include a small number of trials and drugs-belonging to a single class-and a focus on efficacy (versus safety).

CONCLUSIONS: Reporting bias persists but appears to have diminished for newer, compared to older, antidepressants. Continued efforts are needed to further improve transparency in the scientific literature.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1003886
Number of pages21
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan-2022


  • Antidepressive Agents/therapeutic use
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Approval/statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Publication Bias
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration/statistics & numerical data

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