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Medicines and vaccines are complex products, and it is often extraordinarily difficult to know whether they help or hurt. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) holds an enormous reservoir of data that sheds light on that precise question, yet currently releases only a trickle to researchers, doctors, and patients. Recent examples show that data secrecy can be deadly, and existing laws such as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) cannot solve the problem. We present here a wealth of new evidence about the urgency of the problem and argue that the FDA must “reboot” its rules to proactively disclose all safety and efficacy data for drugs and vaccines with minimal redactions, deploying data use agreements to ensure the most sensitive data is handled appropriately. In line with the literature that has been critical of simplistic calls for “transparency,” we urge a more contextual form of “data publicity.” We also show that clinical trial data publicity can be achieved without legislative reform, while respecting privacy, protecting any legitimate trade secrets, and maintaining or improving incentives to innovate. The FDA must adapt to protect and expand structural accountability and to protect the public and its trust. The model we offer here could guide similar action at other regulatory agencies as well, enabling better oversight of information-intensive industries and helping safeguard the agencies themselves.


Constitutional Law | Health Law and Policy | Intellectual Property Law | Law | Public Health Education and Promotion