A study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that industry-funded trials surge as federal funding shrinks. The financial restrictions imposed by the government to scientific research seemingly force scientists to seek alternative sources of funding for their studies.
The recently published research paper also found that the number of clinical trials conducted on the National Institutes of Health’s money plunged in recent years. The study was based on data provided by a government web portal called ClincalTrials. The website, which offers information on potential life-saving drugs and breakthroughs, is run by the institute and The National Library of Medicine.
For 10 years there is a federal requirement to register all ongoing clinical trials on the site, if researchers plan to later publish their work in a peer-reviewed journal. The research team sifted through the database and selected clinical trials by type of funder.
They learned that trials funded by big pharmas surged 43 percent between 2006 and 2014, from more than 4,500 to slightly more than 6,500. In the meantime, federally-funded trial sank 24 percent, from 1,376 to 1,048.
Dr. Stephan Ehrhardt, lead author of the study and epidemiology expert, is now concerned that the situation may affect the quality of research, as studies continue to be tainted by ‘commercial interests.’
He explained that when a comparative study is funded by the NIH, researchers start from the assumption that both medications in the trial are equally effective because there is no financial stake in the outcome.
Study authors believe that the reduction of NIH-funded trials may be caused by the institution’s shrinking budget which is now 14 percent lower than it used to be about a decade ago.
But the latest study has some limitations. ClinicalTrials does not include independent studies that were funded by non-for-profits, academics, or private funders that may be from the U.S. or not. The website sticks to NIH- or industry-funded trials. Additionally, many of the studies listed on the site were probably never completed as researchers aren’t required to mention a start date.
The study also shows that funding coming from abroad is on the rise since of 500 studies 71 percent were carried out on money provided by non-U.S. funders.
But the recent study is a reason of concern that today’s clinical research may be compromised by corporate money as researchers sometimes become more interested in serving their sponsors’ interests than the general good. A recent study revealed that 10 percent of board positions in health care companies belong to scientists from universities or other nonprofit institutions.
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