Drug industry contributions influence clinical research, JAMA study says

Financial ties between academic researchers and universities and pharmaceutical companies are “pervasive and may impact the research process,” according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), USA Today reports.

The study, titled “Scope and Impact of Financial Conflicts of Interest in Biomedical Research: A Systemic Review,” analysed data from 37 peer-reviewed studies published between 1980 and 2000 to determine the “extent, impact and management of financial conflicts.”

The study found that 25% of biomedical researchers at universities had commercial ties “serious enough to raise questions of financial conflict” and in many cases, “enough to skew their research,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

The study also found that universities, which are “expected to police the integrity and ethics” of faculty researchers, “have their own commercial research interests” and financial conflicts of interest, the Times reports.

About two-thirds of the universities studied had equity in companies whose research they were supposed to monitor; 27 universities had equity in 10 or more companies.

As result of the conflicts of interest, industry-sponsored research is 3.6 times more likely to have results favourable to the company that funded the research, according to the study (Hotz, Los Angeles Times, 1/22).

The study found that the protocols for industry-sponsored research often “favour the sponsor’s drug”; in addition, many researchers will not publish studies with “unfavourable results,” and medical journals often do not publish studies with “boring, negative results” for new treatments (USA Today, 1/22).

Future Impact

Industry funds have become the “lifeblood” of biomedical research – they accounted for 62% of US expenditures on prescription drug research by 2000 – but fewer than half of 47 of the “most influential” medical journals have disclosure policies to “alert the public to the possibility of bias,” the Times reports.

In addition, although most universities and medical centres have disclosure policies, they often do not adhere to them in practice (Los Angeles Times, 1/22).

There is a lot of idealism about how science is isolated and objective,” Virginia Ashby Sharpe, a bioethicist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, adding, “Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Money can absolutely influence scientists” (USA Today, 1/22).

According to the study, because a “convergence of pressures … will likely lead to increased reliance on industry financing” for biomedical research in the future, “close scrutiny will be required to understand and monitor the unintended consequences of academic-industry collaboration” (Bekelman et al., JAMA, 1/22).


JE Bekelman et al. Scope and Impact of Financial Conflicts of Interest in Biomedical Research. A Systematic Review. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) 2003;289:454-465.

Source: JAMA

JAMA abstract:

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