Over half of the USA's medical schools and teaching hospitals receive financial support from industry, according to a national survey of department chairs. The results of the survey are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The authors of the article believe that disclosure and management of these relationships are crucial.

The authors explain "Institutional academic-industry relationships (IAIRs) exist when academic institutions, or any of their senior officials, have a financial relationship with or financial interests in a public or private company. Similar to relationships between individual faculty members and industry, relationships between academic institutions and industry, when they conflict, or have the appearance of conflicting, with the core missions of academic medical centers create an institutional conflict of interest, which exists when a department chair supervises faculty who conduct research for companies with which the chair has a personal financial relationship."

Several people have voiced a need for the establishment of policies and practices for disclosure, evaluation and management of IAIRs. There is no nationwide data that describes the extent of IAIRs, or that could be utilized for policy development.

Eric G. Campbell, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and team carried out a study to find out the nature, extent and consequences of IAIRs by questioning department chairs of 125 accredited allopathic medical schools, as well as the nation's 15 biggest independent teaching hospitals. The study took place between February 2006 and October 2006. Out of 688 eligible department chairs, 459 completed the survey - an overall response rate of 67%.

The researchers found that:

60% of department chairs had some kind of personal link with industry

-- 27% were paid as consultants for companies
-- 27% were members of some scientific advisory board
-- 7% were officers or executives of companies
-- 9% were company founders
-- 11% were members of a board of directors
-- 14% were paid speakers

67% of departments as administrative units had industry links

-- 17% of clinical departments receive research equipment
-- 10% of non-clinical departments receive research equipment
-- 19% of clinical departments receive unrestricted funds
-- 3% of non-clinical departments receive unrestricted funds
-- 36% of clinical departments receive support for research seminars
-- 13% of non-clinical departments receive support for research seminars
-- 37% of clinical departments receive support for residency and fellowship training
-- 2% of non-clinical departments receive support for residency and fellowship training
-- 65% of clinical departments receive support for department-administered continuing medical education
-- 3% of non-clinical departments receive support for department-administered continuing medical education
-- Discretionary funds to buy food and drinks in the department were much more likely to be received by clinical departments than non-clinical departments
-- Nonclinical departments were considerably more likely to receive money from licensing of intellectual property developed by researchers in the department

Over two-thirds of department chairs believe that their links to industry do not influence their professional activities. 72% believe that a chair's ability to carry out independent unbiased research is compromised if it is involved in more than one industry-related activity.

The writers conclude "This study presents the first empirical data showing that IAIRs are frequent in medical schools and teaching hospitals and thus deserving of attention. Future research is needed to better understand the impact of IAIRs on the independent unbiased performance of the education and research missions of medical schools, the management and disclosure of these relationships at the institutional level, and the impact of institutional policies. Failure to address the existence and influence of industry relationships with academic institutions could endanger the trust of the public in U.S. medical schools and teaching hospitals."

"Institutional Academic - Industry Relationships"
Eric G. Campbell, PhD; Joel S. Weissman, PhD; Susan Ehringhaus, JD; Sowmya R. Rao, PhD; Beverly Moy, MD; Sandra Feibelmann, MPH; Susan Dorr Goold, MD, MHSA, MA
JAMA. 2007;298:1779-1786.
Click here to view abstract online

Written by: Christian Nordqvist