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Industry Is Funding Bigger Share of Medical Research

Dwindling participation of public, academic sectors troubles experts

FRIDAY, March 17, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Industry is paying for more and more medical research, slowly shifting the lion's share of funding away from academia and to the private sector, a new study reveals.

The findings have experts worrying that academia is losing control of the clinical research agenda.

"Our findings suggest that while most highly cited papers in medicine are still authored or co-authored by people with university affiliations, there is a gradual change in the sources of funding," said Dr. John Ioannidis, senior author of the study and professor and chairman of the department of hygiene and epidemiology at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece.

According to Ioannidis, who also holds an appointment as professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, industry is currently funding almost all clinical trials most often cited by other scientists, and is now considered to have a large impact on medicine. In fact, "in half of these [studies] there is absolutely no other source of funding," he said.

The report appears in the March 18 issue of the British Medical Journal.

As outlined in an accompanying journal commentary, funding for medical research comes from three sources -- government, charities and industry.

The scientific and lay communities have long voiced concerns that private funding from sources such as biotechnology and drug companies can introduce bias and conflicts of interest into the mix. Despite these concerns, there has been little hard evidence on who is funding what percentage of research.

For this paper, the authors analyzed affiliations of authors and the funding sources for articles on clinical medicine that had received the highest number of citations in other papers. All the articles were published between 1994 and 2003.

While the authors acknowledge that citations are not the ultimate arbiter of quality, they do indicate how much impact the research has had.

Of the 289 most frequently cited articles, the majority had at least one author with a university (76 percent) or hospital (57 percent) affiliation.

The most common type of funding was government or public funding (60 percent of articles) followed by industry (36 percent), the researchers found.

But they also found that 65 of the 77 most-cited randomized, controlled trials (considered the gold standard of research) received funding from industry with the proportion increasing over time.

Eighteen of the 32 most-cited trials published after 1999 were funded by industry, with no other sources of funding listed.

So, what's to be done? One solution would be to make sure all authors declare any and all interests, said the author of the accompanying commentary, Dr. Brendan Delaney, a professor of primary care at the University of Birmingham in England. Delaney said that, like many researchers, he has ties with several pharmaceutical companies, including Astra-Zeneca, Wyeth and Merck.

According to Ioannidis, "Funding for research should be increased, in particular government funding and funding from other public sources. Society should invest more in research."

"It is great to have funding from private sources, including for-profit ones, but it would be a pity if governmental funding for research, especially research that has a direct impact on the lives of people, cannot catch up," he continued.

More information

For more on Americans' views on health-related issues, visit Research!America.

SOURCES: John Ioannidis, M.D., professor and chairman, department of hygiene and epidemiology, University of Ioannina School of Medicine, Ioannina, Greece, and professor, medicine, Tufts University School of Medcine, Boston; March 18, 2006, British Medical Journal
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