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Conflict of Interest


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If you knew someone was being paid thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to research an article for a particular company, do you think you would trust the results?

I have this product which I want you to do research on and we think it is a great product who will help many people. We would just like you to confirm that please. Oh, and we’ll pick up the food and drink tab for tonight’s meal and what’s your bank account details? We will deposit $50,000 tonight. To top this off the researcher may or may not declare this transaction because it is all voluntary.

If this was the scene you saw just how fair and transparent do you think the results may be?

Well, this is exactly what is happening with one in four medical researchers.

A recent study led by University of Sydney found Australian researchers got $11.5 million from drug companies in this past year.

Interestingly declaring these conflicts relies on an honor system. In other words, I really don’t have to say where my money/grant came from and in the same study they found one in four medical researchers fail to declare important conflicts of interest in medical trials.

A Cochrane Library review in 2017 found drug and device trial studies sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry were more likely to reveal results or conclusions that favored a sponsor’s product. Nothing appears to have changed in the years since the study.

The Journal of General Internal Medicine published research examining 120 clinical trials of new drugs, comparing the authors’ declared conflict of interest in studies published in medical journals with a database of money they received.

The team found in almost half the trials undisclosed conflicts of interest with average undeclared payments from $9,000 to $97,600 had taken place.

In an industry where the health of a nation is at stake this is not good enough.

The other surprise finding was that food and drink payments don’t need to be disclosed meaning the pharma industry can wine and dine researchers as much as they wish with no accountability. How much this happens is anyone guess as there are no records kept.

If we want transparency in this industry and the research involved this must change. Bias towards the pharma industry funding has already been established as favorable to the results, yet nothing changes.

Of 323 Australian authors listed in the trials, one quarter had at least one ‘missing or incomplete conflict of interest declaration’.

Bond University researcher Dr Ray Moynihan, who studies the link between money and medicine, said the research showed a ‘lack of rigor from the journals and authors. ’One of the fundamental problems for medicine and healthcare is that so much of science is funded by companies who have a vested interest in the outcome of the studies’.

Dr Moynihan said the system needed to be regulated with penalties to enhance transparency.

An example of this is a recent trial for a new cancer treatment manufactured by Roche, published in the Lancet. The study was funded by Roche, and it found the treatment worked well.

The treatment may have worked well but with $150,000 paid to 5 of the authors by Roche and other companies who manufacture cancer drugs there must be some question over the voracity of the results.

It is time for this conflict of interest to at least be declared if not stopped altogether. There must be transparency and integrity in all medical research. Our lives and the lives of our children and loved ones are at stake.



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