Industry support of academic life science research may be dropping

November 3, 2009

While more than half the academic life science researchers responding to a 2007 survey indicated having some relationship with industrial entities, the prevalence of such relationships - particularly direct funding for research studies - appears to be dropping. Results of the survey, appearing in the November/December 2009 issue of Health Affairs, also suggest that interest in commercial applications of research appears to be growing, even among investigators without industry funding. The new study is a follow-up to 1985 and 1995 surveys by members of the same team.

"It had been ten years since our last survey, and attitudes about academic-industry relationships have changed, leading many hospitals, universities and other research organizations to institute new conflict-of-interest policies," explains Darren Zinner, PhD, who led the study as a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute for Health Policy. "Additionally, the economics of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries have shifted, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget doubled in that time. All of these factors may have made faculty less dependent on industry funding. Because many of these conflict-of-interest policies are now being re-examined, it was time to repeat the study, establish new data points and analyze any trends that appeared." Zinner is now at the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy in the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

In late 2006 and early 2007, the researchers mailed surveys to a randomly selected group of faculty members at the 50 U.S. universities receiving the most NIH support in 2004. The survey asked a range of questions about respondents' relationships and activities in the preceding three years. Of more than 2,900 eligible faculty members to whom surveys were sent, almost 2,100 replied, for a response rate of 74 percent. Almost 53 percent of respondents reported some sort of industry relationship in the preceding three years - most frequently consulting, paid speaking, research grants and contracts, and scientific advisory board membership.

Overall, 20 percent of research faculty received industry funding in 2006, a significant decrease from the 28 percent of faculty in 1995. For those with industry support, the magnitude of per-investigator funding remained essentially unchanged, indicating a decrease in overall corporate spending in academic life-science research. As in the previous studies, industry relationships were more common among senior faculty members, with full professors being up to twice as likely as junior faculty to be involved with industry.

In addition, with industry relationships were more productive, as measured by the number of publications and the impact of the journals in which their studies appeared. "While it's possible that industry funding and connections increased their academic output," Zinner explains, "it's more likely that companies are seeking out highly productive investigators who are opinion leaders in their fields."

Similar to previous studies, industry-funded scientists were more likely to report that their work resulted in trade secrets - information kept secret to protect its potential commercial value - or that publication had been delayed for longer than six months. However, rates of patenting and trade secrecy also more than doubled since 1985 among researchers without corporate sponsorship, suggesting activities previously associated with industry funding are more widespread among all academic scientists.

"Industry relationships may be declining because of increased regulation by universities as well as a general attitude among the public that working with industry is in some way bad," explains Eric Campbell, PhD, director of Research at the MGH Institute for Health Policy (MGH-IHP), the study's senior author. "But the drop in these relationships doesn't mean that institutions can stop paying attention to them. Finding that half of all university scientists - both clinical and nonclinical researchers - have some form of industry relationships emphasizes the importance of continued and perhaps more intense reporting and scrutiny."

However, Campbell notes, the fact that less than 65 percent of full professors report industry relationships refutes the common assertion that there are no senior academic scientists without industry connections who could serve on advisory panels for the NIH and the Food and Drug Administration. "Those organizations just need to look a little harder for such folks," he says. Campbell is an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Zinner is a senior lecturer at Brandeis University.

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital (news : web)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

'bench to bedside to bench': Scientists call for closer basic-clinical collaborations

March 24, 2017
In the era of genome sequencing, it's time to update the old "bench-to-bedside" shorthand for how basic research discoveries inform clinical practice, researchers from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), National Human Genome Research ...

The ethics of tracking athletes' biometric data

January 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it is a FitBit or a heart rate monitor, biometric technologies have become household devices. Professional sports leagues use some of the most technologically advanced biodata tracking systems to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.