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January 22/29, 2003

Scope and Impact of Financial Conflicts of Interest in Biomedical Research: A Systematic Review

JAMA. 2003;289(4):454-465. doi:10.1001/jama.289.4.454

Context Despite increasing awareness about the potential impact of financial conflicts of interest on biomedical research, no comprehensive synthesis of the body of evidence relating to financial conflicts of interest has been performed.

Objective To review original, quantitative studies on the extent, impact, and management of financial conflicts of interest in biomedical research.

Data Sources Studies were identified by searching MEDLINE (January 1980-October 2002), the Web of Science citation database, references of articles, letters, commentaries, editorials, and books and by contacting experts.

Study Selection All English-language studies containing original, quantitative data on financial relationships among industry, scientific investigators, and academic institutions were included. A total of 1664 citations were screened, 144 potentially eligible full articles were retrieved, and 37 studies met our inclusion criteria.

Data Extraction One investigator (J.E.B.) extracted data from each of the 37 studies. The main outcomes were the prevalence of specific types of industry relationships, the relation between industry sponsorship and study outcome or investigator behavior, and the process for disclosure, review, and management of financial conflicts of interest.

Data Synthesis Approximately one fourth of investigators have industry affiliations, and roughly two thirds of academic institutions hold equity in start-ups that sponsor research performed at the same institutions. Eight articles, which together evaluated 1140 original studies, assessed the relation between industry sponsorship and outcome in original research. Aggregating the results of these articles showed a statistically significant association between industry sponsorship and pro-industry conclusions (pooled Mantel-Haenszel odds ratio, 3.60; 95% confidence interval, 2.63-4.91). Industry sponsorship was also associated with restrictions on publication and data sharing. The approach to managing financial conflicts varied substantially across academic institutions and peer-reviewed journals.

Conclusions Financial relationships among industry, scientific investigators, and academic institutions are widespread. Conflicts of interest arising from these ties can influence biomedical research in important ways.