A university professor has accused pharmaceutical companies of creating medicines that have little new to offer patients.

Professor Donald Light of the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey, US, has estimated that 85% of new drugs offer few, if any, new benefits, but potentially cause serious harm because of downplayed side effects.

Light labelled the pharmaceutical industry as a “market for lemons”, with the industry misleading and misinforming the public about the risks of new drugs.

“They spend two to three times more on marketing than on research to persuade doctors to prescribe new drugs,” said Light. “Doctors get misleading information and then misinform patients.”

The allegations, made in a paper presented to the American Sociology Association, have been refuted by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which criticised a lack of hard evidence to substantiate the claims.