Since 2006, the number of industry-sponsored clinical trials studying the benefits and harms of medical treatments has risen dramatically, while the number of clinical trials funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has fallen substantially, according to new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research.
The researchers say that the findings, published in the December 15 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggest a growing influence of clinical trials being conducted by companies with a vested interest in the outcome and a dilution of the impact of government-funded trials. Results from NIH-funded clinical trials often provide the basis for prevention and treatment recommendations.
“My concern is that independent trials are on the decline and that means we have less high-quality data to inform public health that are not influenced by commercial interests,” says study leader Dr. Stephan Ehrhardt, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s department of epidemiology. “When I am doing a government-funded trial comparing two treatments, I start with the assumption that both treatments are equal. I don’t have a vested financial interest in the outcome.
“But when I am a drug company testing my new product, my objectivity can be compromised by the company’s bottom line since it costs me millions of dollars to develop and test my product to get it on the market. It might be difficult for me to be completely objective. The stakes are very high.”