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Link found between researchers’ financial ties to drug industry and study outcomes

Written by Alex Woodbridge

Financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry are common among researchers, guideline panelists, and physicians. A financial tie is the direct compensation (e.g. consulting fees, honorarium, travel fees, etc.) of a principal investigator (PI) by the manufacturer of their study’s drug of interest. My research team’s study, published in the BMJ this past week, examined the relationship between researchers’ financial ties to the drug industry and their study outcomes.

Past studies have examined the financial ties between principal investigators studying drug efficacy and the pharmaceutical company for the drug studied. However, many have not separated financial ties from the research funding source and many have been focused on one specialty, journal, or type of drug. For this study, our research team created a one-year snapshot of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) studying drug efficacy published in 2013.

To identify financial ties, our research team looked at both the disclosure section of the paper and several online databases (Medline, Google, Pro Publica’s Dollars for Doctors, and the US Patent Office) for each PI in every RCT. Financial ties between PIs and the drug manufacturer of interest were present in 67.7% of the RCTs in our sample.

Our team was concerned specifically with the influence of drug industry funding on study outcome. We found that studies with a principal investigator with a financial tie were more likely to have a study with a positive outcome. 75.7% of positive studies and 49.2% of negative studies had one or more of their principal investigators with a financial tie to the pharmaceutical company of the study’s drug of interest.

The cross-sectional nature of our study does not let us draw conclusions about causality. However, we attempted to identify any potential confounding variables and control for them. As a result, we controlled for study funding and found that PI financial ties with industry were associated with positive study outcomes, independent of study funding. Additionally, we controlled for study characteristics such as specialty, size, and study design.

RCTs shape the evidence base in drug safety and efficacy studies because they are considered the most reliable form of evidence. While collaboration between industry and academia serves an important role, RCT results shape clinical practice and, it is therefore imperative that they are not influenced by this relationship.


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