Regulating Industry-Funded Science Could Harm Patient Safety, Report Finds

Regulating Industry-Funded Science Could Harm Patient Safety

Study Finds Corporate Funding Tends to Incentivize Appropriate Behavior

Washington, D.C., Feb. 4, 2010 – Corporate funding of medical research does not lead to irreconcilable conflicts of interest or raise the possibility of harm to patients, according to a new study published today by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  The study, conducted by medical ethics scholars from the non-profit Center for Ethical Solutions, found that often over-looked motives such as scholarly ambition, glory seeking, or a fear of academic failure tend to be more likely motives than monetary interest in most cases of harm to patients.

“Regulation designed to prevent conflicts of interests by limiting financial ties between industry and researchers are misguided and likely to hinder rather than promote patient well-being,” say authors Sigrid Fry-Revere, Alison Mathey, and David Malmstrom in Shackling Innovation: The Regulation of Industry-Supported Clinical Trials.  "Reducing or eliminating financial incentives in research is unlikely to prevent the rare shortsighted researcher from sacrificing patient safety because not all research mistakes are intentional and financial gain is not the only factor that could motivate an unwise choice."

Critics point to a small number of unfortunate and tragic cases in which financial conflicts of interest may have played a role in research-related injuries and deaths, then proceed to condemn the profit motive in biomedical research as a whole.  However, the report shows how monetary interests of sponsors tend to align with the broader interests of patients and society as a whole: both are dependent upon research that results in successful medical products which improve human health.  "Eliminating financial incentives could ironically increase the likelihood that researchers will make errors," said study co-author Alison Mathey.

"Conflicts of interest exist in every form of human interaction, but not every conflict arises from the potential for monetary gain," said Fry-Revere, founder and president of the Center for Ethical Solutions. "The better course would be to make well-conducted research so rewarding, and errors in research so costly, that researchers are incentivized to do their absolute best to produce accurate results. If the profit motive is removed, then both the most immediate benefit of doing good work and the long-term cost of doing poor work are eliminated."

View the CEI Issue Analysis, Shackling Innovation: The Regulation of Industry-Supported Clinical Trials by Sigrid Fry-Revere, Alison Mathey, and David Malmstrom.