Industry-Funded Trials Up 43% as NIH-Funded Trials Drop 24%

Marcia Frellick

December 16, 2015

From 2006 to 2014, the number of industry-funded clinical trials increased by 1965 (43%), whereas the number funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decreased by 328 (24%), according to new analysis.

The findings, based on data from ClinicalTrials.gov for trials entered into the system during the study period, appear in a research letter

Despite the drop in the number of NIH-funded trials, the researchers found that the overall number of newly registered trials doubled from 9321 in 2006 to 18,400 in 2014.

"My concern is that independent trials are on the decline and that means we have less high-quality data to inform public health that are not influenced by commercial interests," lead author Stephan Ehrhardt, MD, MPH, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, said in a university news release. "When I am doing a government-funded trial comparing two treatments, I start with the assumption that both treatments are equal. I don't have a vested financial interest in the outcome.

"But when I am a drug company testing my new product, my objectivity can be compromised by the company's bottom line since it costs me millions of dollars to develop and test my product to get it on the market," he said.

Dr Ehrhardt said he believes two things may be behind the trend: flat funding for NIH (the 2014 budget was 14% less than in 2006, after adjusting for inflation) and greater competition for NIH dollars from new areas such as genomic research or personalized medicine studies.

He said discussion is needed about how best to allocate research dollars.

"What best informs public health? It's probably clinical trials in large populations, such as testing to see if a reduced-salt diet reduces blood pressure. That study changed the way people eat and helped to reduce hypertension in many people. Industry would never do that. They'd have no interest in a reduced-salt diet. There's no money in that," he said.

The researchers downloaded data from ClinicalTrials.gov and searched for "interventional study," and then counted newly registered trials by funder type: "NIH," "industry," "other U.S. federal agency," or "all others (individuals, universities, organizations)."

Coauthors report grants from the National Institutes of Health to conduct clinical trials. One coauthor reports receiving industry funding to conduct clinical trials. The other authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

JAMA. 2015;314:2566-2567. Extract

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