Industry funds six times more clinical trials than the US government: researchers

The drug and device industry now funded six times more clinical trials than the federal government, Johns Hopkins University researchers said.

That meant companies with financial interests in the studies now exercised greater control over what doctors and patients learned about new treatments.

Clinical trials test new therapies on humans for safety and effectiveness prior to their approval for wide use.

While the companies were expected to pay for the trials of their products, studies exclusively funded by them could be even narrow and biased according to Dr Stephan Ehrhardt, the Johns Hopkins study leader.

In the past, since industry-funded research was not the dominant source of information, there were no concerns about it, but it was a different story today.

"When looking at the numbers, I see an imbalance," said Ehrhardt, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Epidemiolog, the online edition of The Baltimore Sun reported.

"Industry doesn't fund trials most important for public health because they have no incentive to do that."

The trend set in, with the budget cuts for the National Institutes of Health - the primary source of government funding for clinical trials 14 per cent since 2006 as Washington embraced belt-tightening in many areas.

The number of NIH-sponsored trials declined from 1,376 registered on a website in 2006 to 1,048 by 2014, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Industry-sponsored trials were up about 2,000 over the same period, reaching 6,550 registered in 2014.

According to Ehrhardt, an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, federally funded trials were independent, often intended to compare drugs or other treatments instead of simply to show that a product works and should gain federal approval.

For instance, a company seeking to sell a drug to lower cholesterol is not likely to sponsor a trial pitching a dietary or lifestyle intervention vis--vis different available drugs to discern what treatment plan was best overall.

According to a federally funded trial published this fall, the effectiveness of treating schizophrenia patients after a first psychotic episode with a coordinated treatment approach that included a personalised medication plan coupled with psychotherapy, case management and family support would likely not be favoured by a company that sought to get a specific treatment approved.