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Donor-funded research: permissible, not perfect
  1. Mike King1,
  2. Angela Ballantyne1,2
  1. 1Bioethics Centre, School of Medical and Surgical Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. 2Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Dr Angela Ballantyne, Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, University of Otago, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand; angela.ballantyne{at}


Donor-funded research is research funded by private donors in exchange for research-related benefits, such as trial participation or access to the trial intervention. This has been pejoratively referred to as ‘pay to play’ research, and criticised as unethical. We outline three models of donor-funded research, and argue for their permissibility on the grounds of personal liberty, their capacity to facilitate otherwise unfunded health research and their consistency with current ethical standards for research. We defend this argument against objections that donor-funded research is wrongly exploitative, unfair and undermines the public good of medical research. Our conclusion is that, like all human subjects research, donor-funded research should be regulated via standard health research legislation/guidelines and undergo Research Ethics Committee/Institutional Review Board and scientific peer-review. We expect that, measured against these standards, some donor-funded research would be acceptable.

  • research ethics
  • clinical trials
  • drugs and drug industry
  • research on special populations
  • ethics committees/consultation

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  • Contributors MK and AB made a substantial, and equal, contribution to the conception of the work, each draft, revision and approval of final content. Both authors agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work and ensure that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in thepublic, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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