Commentary: an independent voice? Conflicts of interest and research on ethical, legal and social issues

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Date: Spring-Fall 2005
From: Health Law Review(Vol. 13, Issue 2-3)
Publisher: University of Alberta - Health Law Institute
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,134 words

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Over the past few months there have been a number of well publicized controversies that have highlighted the impact of industry funding on the nature and tone research results. There is, for example, mounting evidence that involvement with industry sponsors creates a bias toward the publication of positive results. (1) The impact of these studies has been punctuated by headline grabbing stories about safety issues with the popular drugs Paxil and Vioxx, and the possible suppression of negative results.

To date, however, there has been little discussion about the impact of research funding on the integrity of ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) research. Unlike some areas of biomedical investigation, ELSI research, which includes a wide range of disciplines, rarely receives significant funds directly from industry sponsors. However, increasingly, the government funding agencies that support biomedical ELSI work have, rightly or not, embraced an explicit commercialization agenda. For example, the enabling legislation of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada's primary public funder of biomedical research, states that the goals of the CIHR are to "encourag[e] innovation, facilitat[e] the commercialization of health research in Canada and promot[e] economic development through health research in Canada." (2) Genome Canada, a publicly funded national research program, requires all researchers to obtain matching funds, which will often come from the private sector, on a dollar for dollar basis. (3)

There are undeniable benefits to building close ties between academic researchers and industry. Commercial partners increase available research funds, may contribute to broader economic growth and provide the needed infrastructure to develop and disseminate new technologies. But these ties also come with a cost. Though the public clearly trusts academic researchers, that trust can be quickly lost....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A134044294