S.L. Baker

Medical Research Bought Off by Big Pharma

So what if cancer researchers have close financial ties to Big Pharma? Scientists have to disclose their associations with drug companies when they publish research in respected journals and they'd never let a little thing like financial ties influence how they interpret outcomes or run a study. Right?

Not exactly. In fact, a new analysis by University of Michigan (U-M) Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers just published in the online version of the journal CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, found that a very large number of clinical cancer studies published in well-known medical journals have financial connections to pharmaceutical companies. Most importantly, the study flat out concludes that conflicts of interest may cause some researchers to report results that are biased to be favorable to Big Pharma companies.

"Given the frequency we observed for conflicts of interest and the fact that conflicts were associated with study outcomes, I would suggest that merely disclosing conflicts is probably not enough. It's becoming increasingly clear that we need to look more at how we can disentangle cancer research from industry ties," study author Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., assistant professor of radiation oncology at the U-M Medical School, said in a media statement.

Entanglements and alliances between clinical researchers and companies that make medical devices and medications have become increasingly complicated, especially in the face of more and more scientists competing for fewer and fewer federal research funds. Out of necessity, scientists have turned to financial support from Big Pharma. But apparently there could be strings – and lures – attached.

For example, many researchers get additional consulting fees and also end up owning a part of a drug company themselves, through stock purchases and/or by holding salaried positions within medical industries. In other words, they profit from sales if the very products and drugs they test do well.

You don't have to be a business insider to figure out this type of conflict of interest should raise concerns and suspicions that research tied closely to industry might be biased and not designed to produce the most accurate test of medical therapies. That's why most medical journals now require investigators to disclose all potential conflicts of interest in the studies and reviews they submit for publication.

But is voluntary disclosure enough? And does that somehow make a conflict of interest less likely?

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