Industry funded research

From The Embassy of Good Science

Industry funded research

What is this about?

Research funds can be derived from private as well as public sources. Industry, or commerical organisations, are important private funders. Collaborations between academia and industry can be beneficial by generating knowledge on topics of mutual interest,  or developing technologies, products, services, etc. Industry funded research has however also been subject to heavy criticism; industry stakeholders are known to set research agendas in their favour, supress publications and sometimes present only the results which favour the funder. [1][2] Practices which have been reported in tobacco, pharmaceutical, chemical and food industry funded research. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

  1. Bero, L. (2019) When big companies fund academic research, the truth often comes last. The conversation. Accessed via: http://theconversation.com/when-big-companies-fund-academic-research-the-truth-often-comes-last-119164
  2. Krimsky, S. (2005). The funding effect in science and its implications for the judiciary. JL & Pol'y, 13, 43.
  3. Brandt, A. M. (2012). Inventing conflicts of interest: a history of tobacco industry tactics. American journal of public health, 102(1), 63-71.
  4. Lundh, A., Lexchin, J., Mintzes, B., Schroll, J. B., & Bero, L. (2017). Industry sponsorship and research outcome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews,
  5. vom Saal, F. S., Nagel, S. C., Timms, B. G., & Welshons, W. V. (2005). Implications for human health of the extensive bisphenol A literature showing adverse effects at low doses: a response to attempts to mislead the public. Toxicology, 212(2-3), 244.Kearns, C. E., Schmidt, L. A., & Glantz, S. A. (2016).
  6. Sugar industry and coronary heart disease research: a historical analysis of internal industry documents. JAMA internal medicine, 176(11), 1680-1685.
  7. Krimsky, S. (2005). The funding effect in science and its implications for the judiciary. JL & Pol'y, 13, 43.

Why is this important?

Collaborations are essential to scientific progress, but should not undermine the independence of research. The Wellcome Trust, a UK based funder, does not for example fund any researchers that receive funding from the tobacco industry. They state “There is overwhelming evidence that tobacco damages the health of smokers and non-smoker” .[1]The goals of industry (maximizing profit) and researchers (furthering knowledge) are often not aligned.[2] There are a number of examples where the industry clearly interfered with scientific research to promote their own products. Industry stakeholders are known to have sponsered research to supress evidence showing the adverse effects of their products. For example, the tobacco industry funded research to show that second hand smoking was not harmful. [3] The sugar industry funded research to show the harmful effect of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol were more harmful than sugar intake for causing coronary heart disease.[4] These are clear cases of intereference. There are also other ways in which industry sponsors affect research. Many systematic reviews and meta-analyses have shown that industry sponsored research has more favourable outcomes than non-industry sponsored research. This is also called the funding effect. However, some systematic reviews have also shown that there is little or no difference between industry sponsors and study outcomes.[5] Per discipline and type of research the “funder effect” may differ.

  1. Wellcome trust (2019). Researchers funded by the tobacco industry. Wellcome Trust. Accessed via: https://wellcome.ac.uk/funding/guidance/policy-researchers-funded-tobacco-industry
  2. Krimsky, S. (2005). The funding effect in science and its implications for the judiciary. JL & Pol'y, 13, 43.
  3. Wellcome trust (2019). Researchers funded by the tobacco industry. Wellcome Trust. Accessed via: https://wellcome.ac.uk/funding/guidance/policy-researchers-funded-tobacco-industry
  4. Sugar industry and coronary heart disease research: a historical analysis of internal industry documents. JAMA internal medicine, 176(11), 1680-1685.
  5. Tong, E. K., & Glantz, S. A. (2007). Tobacco industry efforts undermining evidence linking secondhand smoke with cardiovascular disease. Circulation, 116(16), 1845-1854.

For whom is this important?

What are the best practices?

When research is sponsored by industry stakeholders this should be declared as a conflict of interest. Moreover, in a systematic scoping review Cullerton, Adams, Forouhi, Francis & White identified themes for good collaboration with industry stakeholders (specifically in the food industry).[1] In this flowchart the auhtors describe several steps and actions sthat can be taken to ensure good collaboration between researchers and industry stakeholders.

  1. Cullerton, K., Adams, J., Forouhi, N., Francis, O., & White, M. (2019). What principles should guide interactions between population health researchers and the food industry? Systematic scoping review of peer‐reviewed and grey literature. Obesity Reviews, 20(8), 1073-1084.

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