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Feb 21, 2013

Do Financial Conflicts of Interest Impact Study Results?

According to a recent study, funding sources and conflicts of interest have no impact on the outcome of medical studies and trials.

In some health studies, researchers have financial conflicts of interest that they must report when submitting articles for publication. For example, if a medical expert is paid to sit on a board for a pharmaceutical company and that same expert leads a research study investigating one of the company’s drugs, they need to report this as a conflict of interest. Also, if a study is funded by a certain organization, like a pharmaceutical company or health organization, these funding sources need to be documented. This type of strict reporting helps increase transparency and prevents bias in research studies. While this sounds great on paper, many wonder if there’s still an association between conflicts of interest and study outcomes. Are studies more likely to have positive findings when the authors have financial conflicts of interest?

According to a study published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the answer is no. Researchers reviewed 550 articles between 2000 and 2008 from three major cardiovascular journals—the New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. They found that funding sources and conflicts of interest had no impact on the outcomes of trials. However, experts are quick to point out some flaws in this study. Conflicts of interest are self-declared, meaning authors provide this information willingly and the information they provide is not always accurate. Additionally, this study only looked at articles in three of the top cardiovascular journals. These reputable journals are likely to be more stringent with reporting than smaller journals, which may not look as closely at conflicts of interest and funding sources.

Despite these concerns, however, the study’s findings are promising. Regardless of funding sources or conflicts of interest that authors might have, it appears as though trial outcomes are free from bias. And since we base best practices on published research, it’s comforting to know that we can continue to rely on results of studies to further our understanding of health and medicine.

Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

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