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Understanding industry bias and potential conflicts of interest

An Editorial in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine provides a thoughtful overview of the relationship between physicians and industry, and warns of the dangers of bias against industry-sponsored research and the experts who engage in it.

In one example given in the Editorial, the author states: “In a 2012 study, Kesselheim and colleagues investigated how information about funding sources affects internists’ evaluation of clinical trial data. Physicians were given abstracts of fake drug studies, identical save for the funding source. Some abstracts gave no funding-source information, some listed National Institutes of Health (NIH) support, and some noted industry sponsorship. Disclosure of industry funding significantly affected physicians’ interpretation of data, and not favorably. Though the study methods were identical, physicians deemed rigorously conducted industry-sponsored studies to be less well-conducted than NIH-funded comparators. They were thus less likely to view them as important or to desire to read the entire article, and less inclined to prescribe the drugs in question.”.

The author goes on to imply that “using financial disclosures as a means of maintaining scientific objectivity” may be misleading – and indeed hypocritical.

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Ryan co-runs Aspire Scientific, a dynamic, forward-thinking medical writing agency. Ryan has a passion for innovation, science and ethical communication.

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