Survey: Many med schools let sponsors control research

The Associated Press

At least half of U.S. medical schools are willing to give companies that sponsor studies of drugs and treatments considerable control over the results, says a survey that some doctors found troubling.

Half of the schools said they would let pharmaceutical companies and makers of medical devices draft articles that appear in medical journals, and a quarter would allow them to supply the actual results. But academics draw the line at gag orders that keep researchers from publishing negative findings.

“This is totally beyond reasonable practice. What you’re seeing here is a willingness by some institutions to give more leeway than they should,” says Harlan Krumholz, a Yale University cardiologist and epidemiologist who was not involved in the survey.

Private industry pays for more than two-thirds of medical research at U.S. universities, which has led increasingly to conflict-of-interest suspicions. Two decades ago, the federal government was the main benefactor.

The study, led by Michelle Mello of the Harvard School of Public Health, is in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.

Harvard sent surveys to the nation’s 122 accredited medical schools to gauge standards between researchers and sponsors. The medical schools overwhelmingly agreed they would not enter into contracts that would allow companies to edit research articles or suppress negative results. But 50% would let companies draft research papers, and nearly 25% would let them provide the data.

“These results are really bothersome,” says Jerome Kassirer, former editor in chief of the journal and author of a recent book about conflict of interest in research. “Some investigators may be willing to accept constraints just to maintain good relations with the company.” Kassirer had no role in the survey.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group, says corporate sponsors do not interfere with researchers’ independence.

The group publishes voluntary guidelines stating that companies will sometimes help analyze and interpret results and have the right to review articles before publication. The guidelines also note that sponsors own the data.

Recent controversies involving companies accused of suppressing unfavorable results have led to demands for more public disclosure of industry-sponsored research. Drug manufacturers GlaxoSmithKline and Merck recently were accused of hiding information about the antidepressant Paxil and the painkiller Vioxx, respectively.