At ASCO Annual Meeting, a Candid Look at Conflict of Interest

Cynthia J. Gordon, PhD


July 08, 2015

In This Article

Impact of Industry Spending

So, industry is spending more money, but is the trend a reason for concern? Are researchers, physicians, or patients being unduly influenced?

Not surprisingly, advertising appears to work. Approximately 30% of the US public said they had initiated conversations with their physicians about a medicine they saw advertised on television, according to a 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation study.[5] Notably, 44% of those individuals reported that they actually received a prescription from their physician for the drug they asked about. Another study, focusing on oncology medications specifically, showed that 94% of oncology nurse practitioners received medication requests that were prompted by DTC advertisements, with 40% of nurses receiving one to five such requests per week.[6]

But what about doctors? Are physicians and researchers also susceptible to the influence of industry?

There is at least some evidence that this may be the case. The potential for non-financially biased study interpretation notwithstanding, Beverly Moy, MD, MPH, an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the session chair, highlighted three studies that indicated a potential influence related to industry-based financial support:

  • A review of phase 3 clinical trials presented at the ASCO annual meeting during the late 1990s to early 2000s revealed that industry-funded studies were more likely to be published sooner[7];

  • A review of randomized controlled trials of drugs for multiple myeloma revealed that industry-funded trials had control arms that were more likely to be inferior[8]; and

  • A study of nononcologist physicians who attended two industry-sponsored vacation-resort junkets to learn about a new drug revealed that their prescriptions of the drug nearly tripled in the periods immediately after the junkets.[9]

Dr Moy and her colleagues followed up on this provocative data with their own study of industry funding in oncology research. Looking at abstracts submitted to the ASCO annual meeting in 2006 and from 2008 to 2011, collectively, they found that relationships with industry were highly prevalent: About 36% of all abstracts had a financial disclosure.[10] Notably, abstracts that included financial disclosures were more likely to be presented at the most prominent sessions within the meeting. More than 80% of abstracts presented in the plenary sessions during the study period had at least one financial COI.

So what might this mean? One interpretation was, Dr Moy said, in jest: "If you want to be prominent, get some relationships."

But, in all seriousness, she suggested that research done in collaboration with industry might be of better quality, or industry may be seeking out more prominent researchers.


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