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Medical Research Conflicts Found

About one-fourth of university-based medical researchers receive funding from drug companies - ties that sometimes distort study results, according to a review done by two researchers with industry connections of their own.

Yale University researchers Justin Bekelman and Dr. Cary Gross said they found "strong and consistent evidence that industry-sponsored research tends to draw pro-industry conclusions."

"Anecdotal reports suggest that industry may alter, obstruct or even stop publication of negative studies," they said. "Such restrictions seem counter productive to the arguments in favor of academic-industry collaboration, namely encouraging knowledge and technology transfer."

While industry influence on research has made headlines in recent years and prompted calls for reform, the new analysis attempts to quantify the prevalence by combining results from 37 previous studies on the extent and effect of such ties. The studies included data through 2000.

The results suggest that roughly two-thirds of the nation's academic institutions hold stock in start-up companies that sponsor research performed at the same institution.

The review says that the industry share of investment in U.S. biomedical research increased from about 32 percent in 1980 to 62 percent in 2000. The government's role has shrunk.

Gross has served as a consultant and scientific advisory board member to Astra-Zeneca, and Bekelman has done consulting for Turbogenomics Inc.

"Our industry ties may give us a little more credibility" in writing the review, Gross said. "We're trying to look at what is known and isn't known about industry collaboration but not from a perspective that industry is evil and up to no good."

Industry ties are vital and have resulted in important medical advances, but they need to be better disclosed and better monitored, the two researchers said.

Their review appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. JAMA has published numerous recent articles on the issue and joined several other major medical journals two years ago in strengthening financial disclosure requirements for research they publish.

"The vast majority of university medical centers are very much aware that they've got to tighten up their oversight to make sure they don't undermine public confidence," said Dr. David Korn, senior vice president for research policy at the Association of American Medical Colleges. "I do think the community is beginning to respond."

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