October 28, 2019 | The Washington Post
I’m An Academic Doctor. But Research From For-Profit Companies May Be the Best Way to Help Patients and Science in the Future
"I’m an academic doctor. But for-profit research may be the way of the future.
As a cancer doctor and researcher working in academia, I’ve been taught to distrust any studies associated with for-profit companies. But the landscape of research is changing — and for-profit research may be the best way to help patients in the future.
Recently, a research colleague conducted a study that found the Affordable Care Act reduced racial disparities for patients with cancer. The implications of the study could shape policies that increase access to timely cancer treatment for millions of Americans. One of the largest medical conferences in the country had asked her to discuss her study in front of thousands of doctors.
It was an honor that most academics only dream of.
But a few weeks before the presentation, she was asked to withdraw from discussing her work and have an academic professor present in her place. The reason: She was employed by a for-profit company, and the work could appear biased.
But her methodology was impeccable. And, although her company supported the study and provided her with data, it had no direct financial stake in the outcome. As she told me, “We did the study because we cared about the possible impact on patient health and racial equity.”
It’s easy to understand why people distrust for-profit research. For-profit industries like the pharmaceutical industry have spent decades trying to influence studies to get more of their products onto the market. A 2010 study published by Harvard and Toronto researchers found that 85 percent of industry-sponsored clinical trials had a positive result (meaning that a drug was shown to work), whereas only 50 percent of government-sponsored research had a positive result. As British science author Ben Goldacre pointed out in his 2012 book “Bad Pharma,” for-profit companies craft their clinical trials to include only those patients who are most likely to benefit from their drug. Perhaps that is why clinical trial and real-world populations look very different — and why some positive results from clinical trials don’t bear out in practice.
Decades of corporate influence in medical research have led to a growth of conflict of interest policies, forcing researchers to publicly disclose any ties with for-profit industries. These policies have brought to light the heavy influence of for-profit companies in academic research.