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Conflicts of interest common in cancer research

CureToday.Com JULY 1, 2009

Written by Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A "substantial minority" of cancer treatment studies published in major medical journals involve conflicts of interest, according to a new report in the journal Cancer.

And clinical trials with conflicts of interest were more likely to report positive survival outcomes than studies with no industry ties, lead investigator Dr. Reshma Jagsi of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and colleagues found.

Industry involvement today goes beyond drug companies simply paying for studies of their products, the researchers note; some investigators "receive consulting fees, own stock, and hold leadership positions within organizations that profit from selling the very drugs and devices that are the subject of the researchers' investigations." And many studies, they add, have shown that this kind of involvement can bias findings in industry's favor.

Jagsi and colleagues reviewed funding sources for 1534 oncology studies published in eight journals in 2006 to investigate conflicts of interest in cancer research in more detail. They defined conflict of interest as industry funding, any conflict of interest declared by the authors, or any study authors who took a job in industry when the research was done.

Twenty-nine percent of the papers had some type of conflict of interest, the researchers found, with 17 percent reporting industry funding and 12 percent having authors who were industry employees.

Such conflicts were most common in studies in which the corresponding author worked in medical oncology; 45 percent of the studies meeting this description had conflicts.

By region, conflicts of interest were seen in 33 percent of studies from North America, 27 percent of studies from Europe, 5 percent of studies done in Asia and 40 percent of studies done elsewhere.

Studies led by women were significantly less likely to receive industry funding or to have other conflicts of interest than studies led by men, the researchers found.

While 62 percent of the industry-funded studies had a "major focus" on treatment with the goal of a cure, 36 percent of non-industry-funded studies did.

The researchers also found, "most disturbingly," that industry-funded randomized trials were more likely to have positive outcomes than those that didn't receive industry funding.

They conclude: "In light of these findings, attempts to disentangle the cancer-research effort from industry ties merit further attention, and medical journals should be supported in embracing both rigorous standards of disclosure and heightened scrutiny when conflicts exist."


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