Build trust in pharmaceutical companies through open science, for patients’ sake! An undergraduate perspective

Marie-Louise Klampe

Open access is vital for clinical psychology. Open access journals help to prevent publication bias by allowing null findings to be published, unlike non-open access journals, which often only publish shiny and significant findings. This allows for more efficient research, as time isn’t wasted unintentionally researching questions that have already been investigated. This is particularly important in the current push for COVID-19-related research. The first examples that come to mind here may be biomedical research concerning the mechanisms for combatting the virus itself, but clinical psychology has focused on the impacts of the pandemic on mental health. Fast-moving research is needed to mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic on certain risk groups. This includes children and young people from low-income households, who experienced elevated emotional and attention difficulties early in the first lockdown in the UK, compared to those from higher-income households.1

The literature already points to increases in depression and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic.2 Previous research has highlighted the efficacy of combining psychotherapy and medications for conditions such as depression.2 However, pharmacotherapy is associated with distrust in pharmaceutical companies due to past scandals4 as well as research suggesting that studies sponsored by pharmaceutical companies are more likely to show favourable outcomes for those companies.5 In the field of healthcare more generally, distrust in pharmaceutical companies may lead to poor patient adherence to treatment,6,7which translated to mental health settings would be worrying.

Patients with psychological disorders need to be able to put their trust in the medications they are receiving and the pharmaceutical companies that produce them. Trust boosts adherence to treatment resulting in the best possible outcomes. One way to build trust is through unrestricted access to all research, including that from pharma, as Open Pharma is advocating.

Including pharma in the open science conversation is just the first step. I suggest that pharmaceutical companies follow the three principles of the Declaration to Improve Biomedical and Health Research.8 This involves disclosure of interests, promotion of registered reports and deposition of research in designated repositories. The resultant increase in transparency should boost trust in pharma, thereby improving outcomes for patients.

My undergraduate course touched only briefly on the benefits of open science. We had a couple of lectures on the main principles and sometimes preregistered reports for our core laboratory work. My interest was piqued when I stumbled across it through the reproducibility discussion group, ReproducibiliTea. It is my hope that, in the future, discussions about the current advances and applications of open science (including by pharma) will be integrated into biomedical sciences courses. This cultural shift would reduce bias and improve transparency.9 Where better to start than with undergraduates?

Marie-Louise Klampe is a finalist studying Experimental Psychology at Somerville College, Oxford.


  1. Pearcey S, Shum A, Waite P, Patalay P, Creswell C. Co-SPACE study report 5: changes in children and young people’s mental health symptoms and “caseness” during lockdown and patterns associated with key demographic factors. 11 September 2020. Available at Last accessed 4 May 2021.
  2. Racine N, Cooke J, Eirich R, Korczak D, Mcarthur B, Madigan, S. Child and adolescent mental illness during COVID-19: a rapid review. Psychiatry Res 2020;292:113307.
  3. Pampallona S, Bollini P, Tibaldi G, Kupelnick B, Munizza C. Combined pharmacotherapy and psychological treatment for depression: a systematic review. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2004;61:714–19.
  4. Lenzer J. Scandals have eroded US public’s confidence in drug industry. BMJ 2004;329:247.
  5. Lexchin J, Bero L, Djulbegovic B, Clark O. Pharmaceutical industry sponsorship and research outcome and quality: systematic review. BMJ 2003;326:1167–70.
  6. Nguyen GC, LaVeist TA, Harris ML, Datta LW, Bayless TM, Brant SR. Patient trust-in-physician and race are predictors of adherence to medical management in inflammatory bowel disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2009;15:1233–9; doi:10.1002/ibd.20883.
  7. Brown MT, Bussell J, Dutta S, Davis K, Strong S, Mathew S. Medication adherence: truth and consequences. Am J Med Sci 2016;351:387–99; doi:10.1016/j.amjms.2016.01.010.
  8. Graham C, Bradley S. Declaration to improve biomedical and health research. J R Coll Physicians of Edinb 2020;50:343–50.
  9. Richards GC, DeVito NJ, Peter JG, Lloyd KE, Bradley SH, Rombey T, Wayant C. Reducing bias and improving transparency in medical research: a critical overview of the problems, progress and suggested next steps. J R Soc Med 2020;113:433–43.