More than 40 primary studies, and three recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses, have shown a clear association between pharmaceutical industry funding of clinical trials and pro-industry results. Industry sponsorship biases published scientific research in favour of the sponsors, a result of the strong interest commercial sponsors have in obtaining favourable results.
Three proposed remedies to this problem are widely agreed upon among those concerned with the level of sponsorship bias: financial disclosure, reporting standards and trial registries. This paper argues that all of these remedies either fail to address the mechanisms by which pharmaceutical companies’ sponsorship leads to biased results—design bias, multiple trials with predictable outcomes, fraud, rhetorical effects and publication bias—or else only inadequately address those mechanisms. As a result, the policies normally proposed for dealing with sponsorship bias are unable to eliminate it. Only completely separating public clinical research from pharmaceutical industry funding can eliminate sponsorship bias.
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Funding: Support: This research was supported in part by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Competing interests: None.