Doctors are less likely to trust research studies performed with funding from corporate interests such as pharmaceutical companies, according to a new study.
The report, published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, reveals a long-suspected bias against such research among physicians. It also demonstrates the price companies have paid for public violations of trust, including examples of data manipulation and misrepresentation of study results.
In the study, researchers from Harvard Medical School asked physicians to read abstracts from studies reporting promising clinical data about a couple of different new drugs (the abstracts were fakes, written by the research team, but the doctors didn’t know that). The study abstracts varied in terms of how rigorous the research designs were, but they also varied in another way: Whether the funding for the studies was attributed to the National Institutes of Health, a drug company in which the author had a financial stake or no source at all. The doctors were then asked to describe how rigorous the study was, whether they trusted the results and if they would prescribe the drug the study described.
As expected, the doctors could, in general, correctly perceive how rigorous the studies were. But within each category, a doctor's trust in the results was heavily influenced by the source of funding: They were only half as willing to prescribe drugs studied in industry-funded trials as compared with NIH-funded studies.