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Clinical trials increasingly funded by pharma industry

Published on 17/12/15 at 10:00am
National Institutes of Health building
The number of studies funded by the National Institute of Health has fallen while pharma-sponsored studies have risen

The number of clinical trials funded by pharma has risen significantly since 2006, while the number funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has fallen each year since, research shows.

Research from Johns Hopkins University, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that NIH-funded trials have fallen from 1,376 in 2006 to 1,048 in 2014 – a 24% decline. Over the same period, those sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry rose substantially, from 4,585 to 6,550- representing a 43% increase.

The study used data from ClinicalTrials.gov, which holds a registry of human-based clinical studies. Since 2005, researchers have been required to log trials on the site if they wish to publish their findings in major academic journals.

The authors found that since this became compulsory, the total number of studies registered on the site has almost doubled, from 9,321 to 18,400 between 2006 and 2014. Aside from pharma, this increase was driven largely by researchers outside of the US, who also use the ClinicalTrials.gov site.

The findings raise concerns in some corners over the impartiality of the clinical trial data and its relevance to public health issues. Study co-author Stephan Ehrhardt told Reuters that “given that the industry has a vested interest in the outcome of those trials, we don’t get good data to inform the health of the public.”

The suggestion is that pharma-funded trials are naturally focused towards generating data that supports the regulatory approval and uptake of their products, whereas NIH generally compares drugs or studies treatment approaches or the impact of lifestyle choices on health.   

Industry analysts suggested that the proportional change in recent years may be as a result of an inflation-adjusted 14% decrease in funding for the NIH – which is considered one of the foremost medical research centres worldwide – during the period examined.

However, this is set to change in 2016. The spending bill announced by the US Government this week adds an extra $2 billion in funding to the Maryland-based Institutes.

Joel Levy

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