Context Despite federal regulations on faculty conflicts of interest in federally
funded research, academic-industry ties are common, and evidence exists that
financial considerations bias the research record. Public scrutiny of these
ties is increasing, especially in cases where researchers have financial interests
in the corporate sponsors of their clinical research.
Objective To review policies on conflict of interest at major biomedical research
institutions in the United States.
Design Cross-sectional survey and content analysis study conducted from August
1998 to February 2000.
Setting and Participants The 100 US institutions with the most funding from the National Institutes
of Health in 1998 were initially sampled; policies from 89 institutions were
available and included in the analysis.
Main Outcome Measures Process for disclosure, review, and management of conflicts of interest
and specified management strategies or limitations, according to the institutions'
faculty/staff conflict of interest policies.
Results Content of the conflict of interest policies varied widely across institutions.
Fifty-five percent of policies (n = 49) required disclosures from all faculty
while 45% (n = 40) required them only from principal investigators or those
conducting research. Nineteen percent of policies (n = 17) specified limits
on faculty financial interests in corporate sponsors of research, 12% (n =
11) specified limits on permissible delays in publication, and 4% (n = 4)
prohibited student involvement in work sponsored by a company in which the
faculty mentor had a financial interest.
Conclusions Most policies on conflict of interest in our sample of major research
institutions in the United States lack specificity about the kinds of relationships
with industry that are permitted or prohibited. Wide variation in management
of conflicts of interest among institutions may cause unnecessary confusion
among potential industrial partners or competition among universities for
corporate sponsorship that could erode academic standards. It is in the long-term
interest of institutions to develop widely agreed-on, clear, specific, and
credible policies on conflicts of interest.