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Conflict of interest

 

A conflict of interest occurs when those who are involved with the conduct or reporting of research also have financial or other interests, or where they can benefit in some other way, depending on the results of the research. The obvious example is where a company reports results of a trial of its product.

Conflict of interest statements often accompany published papers. It is a statement by a contributor to a report or review of personal financial or other interests that could have influenced the findings or their interpretation.

Conflicts of interest are the norm, and not the exception. In a recent survey of 332 randomised trials, funding is commonly reported:

Table: Sponsorship of RCTs

Funding
Drug
Surgery
Other
Industry (%) 62 18 9
Government or foundation (%) 15 11 37
None reported (%) 23 70 54
Statistically significant outcomes (%) 64 74 70
Industry-funded favouring industry product (%) 34 81 25

The point about a conflict of interest is that a reader needs to know that it is there. It should not, and probably most of the time does not, impart any effect on the results of a trial. But it might, and if we discovered a conflict of interest at some later time, when it had been hidden, we would be concerned.

In relationships with industry, which often funds clinical trials or reviews, there are some things to look for. Most important is freedom to publish, whatever the result, the result of a trial or a review. That is the key element that most folks forget. If it is a review of otherwise unpublished material, it is worth looking for a declaration that all available trials had been made available.