Corporate Funding Taints
And Biases Medical Studies
LONDON, July 31 (Reuters) - The results of medical studies are likely to be tainted or flawed if they are funded by industry and researchers have a conflict of interest, experts said on Friday.
``Almost all funding comes with strings attached,'' Hurst Hannum, a professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts, said in report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). ``At a minimum, the recipient must be accountable for how grants are spent. At a maximum, the recipient must deliver a particular product that is acceptable to the donor.'' In a series of articles in the weekly journal doctors, professors and industry representatives debated the ethical dilemma of companies -- particular tobacco, alcohol and infant formula manufacturers -- financing research. Tom Sorell of the University of Essex in England argued that research funded by the tobacco industry has a tainted history and needed to be closely monitored.
``Payments to some tobacco researchers have come from secret funds or front organisations with misleading names. Much worse, the industry has suppressed findings of its own researchers that bear out what its opponents have claimed,'' he said. Richard Smith, the editor of the journal, cited two important studies published in American journals that showed authors were more likely to be supportive of a drug or product if they had financial backing from the company. In a review of 70 medical articles about a type of drug to treat cardiovascular disease, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the authors discovered that two-thirds of the authors had industry backing.
``Almost all supportive authors (96 percent) had financial relationships with manufacturers, compared with 60 percent neutral authors and 37 percent of critical authors,'' he said in an editorial.
A second study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) of 106 reviews on passive smoking found similar results. Three quarters of the articles that found passive smoking was not harmful were written by tobacco industry affiliates.
``These two papers and their predecessors begin to build a solid case that conflict of interest has an impact on the conclusions reached by papers in medical journals,'' he added. Smith said from now on the authors of papers, editorials and reviews of articles in the magazine will be asked if they have ``competing interests'' which will relate to purely financial matters.
If they have none the magazine will tell readers at the end of each article or if it is found that authors had competing interest readers will be informed.