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Pharm Stat. 2011 Nov-Dec;10(6):554-9. doi: 10.1002/pst.524. Epub 2011 Dec 5.

Why a Bayesian approach to safety analysis in pharmacovigilance is important.

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  • 1Department of Medical Statistics, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK.


Large databases of routinely collected data are a valuable source of information for detecting potential associations between drugs and adverse events (AE). A pharmacovigilance system starts with a scan of these databases for potential signals of drug-AE associations that will subsequently be examined by experts to aid in regulatory decision-making. The signal generation process faces some key challenges: (1) an enormous volume of drug-AE combinations need to be tested (i.e. the problem of multiple testing); (2) the results are not in a format that allows the incorporation of accumulated experience and knowledge for future signal generation; and (3) the signal generation process ignores information captured from other processes in the pharmacovigilance system and does not allow feedback. Bayesian methods have been developed for signal generation in pharmacovigilance, although the full potential of these methods has not been realised. For instance, Bayesian hierarchical models will allow the incorporation of established medical and epidemiological knowledge into the priors for each drug-AE combination. Moreover, the outputs from this analysis can be incorporated into decision-making tools to help in signal validation and posterior actions to be taken by the regulators and companies. We discuss in this paper the apparent advantage of the Bayesian methods used in safety signal generation and the similarities and differences between the two widely used Bayesian methods. We will also propose the use of Bayesian hierarchical models to address the three key challenges and discuss the reasons why Bayesian methodology still have not been fully utilised in pharmacovigilance activities.

Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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