Johns Hopkins Study Raises Questions About Research Funding

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Government funding for research has been on the decline in recent years. In the meantime, private industry has stepped up to close the gap. But is that a good thing?

The trend away from National Institutes of Health-funded research and toward commercial projects began around 2006– and a group of researchers from Johns Hopkins recently found that commercial ventures now run about six times as many clinical trials as the NIH.

The concern, of course, is that the commercial backers of clinical trials might influence their outcomes–or at least that these studies may not be as objective as those funded by a disinterested third-party (i.e., the government). For example, drug companies often pay for clinical tests of their own products. There’s also concern that an increased reliance on industry funding for research means that projects with less commercial potential may be passed over in favor of ones that have the potential to make more money–even if both are equally valid areas of research.

“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,” study author Stephan Ehrhardt, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Hopkins Hub. “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. It might be difficult for me to be completely objective. The stakes are very high.”


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