Physicians are less likely to trust medical studies that are funded by corporate interests, such as drugmakers, according to a report published in NEJM.
For the study, Harvard Medical School researchers had physicians read falsified abstracts from studies on a range of medical treatments. The researchers varied the research designs and the study's funding: Some were funded by NIH, some by a drugmaker in which the author had a financial stake, and some that did not include information on funding.
The physicians were then asked how rigorous the study was, whether they trusted the data, and if they would prescribe the drug involved.
The researchers found that the physicians correctly identified the rigor of the studies, but their confidence in the results largely was influenced by the source of funding.
Altogether, the physicians were half as likely to prescribe drugs from industry-funded trials than those from NIH-funded studies, the study found.
According to Los Angeles Times's "Booster Shots," the results may be encouraging to patients. However, the study's authors warn that "[e]xcessive skepticism concerning trials supported by industry could hinder the appropriate translation of the results into practice."
The report notes that despite "occasional scientific and ethical lapses" in company-sponsored drug trials, "it is also true that the pharmaceutical industry has supported many major drug trials that have been of particular clinical importance."
The report advised drug companies to attempt to bolster their credibility but did not provide guidance on how this should occur (Bardin, "Booster Shots," Los Angeles Times, 9/21).
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