Education And Debate

Cochrane at crossroads over drug company sponsorship

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.327.7420.924 (Published 16 October 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:924
  1. Ray Moynihan, journalist (raymond.moynihan@verizon.net)1
  1. 11312 21st Street NW, Apt 4, Washington, DC 20036, USA

    Can independent scientific evaluation be sponsored by vested interests? The Cochrane Collaboration's decision on this question at its annual colloquium next week could have a big effect on its future

    As it turns 10 this month, the Cochrane Collaboration is at a crossroads, with its supporters deeply divided over whether to embrace drug company sponsorship. In just a decade the collaboration has fundamentally changed the way questions are asked and answered about what works and what doesn't in health care. Its rigorous methods for systematically reviewing and synthesising the best evidence have underpinned a collective move towards evidence based decision making among health professionals, policy makers, and consumers. Now, against a backdrop of growing global entanglement between doctors and drug companies, the collaboration must decide whether it can accept industry funding without compromising its reputation for integrity and independence.

    Big decisions in Barcelona

    Delegates to next week's annual Cochrane Colloquium in Barcelona will debate the thorny question of conflict of interest at the opening plenary session and in a series of high level meetings.

    When the collaboration last got together in Melbourne in March, two senior professors of medicine ended up in a serious discussion about the issue, pre-empting the forthcoming conflict in Barcelona. One thought that the organisation might not be able to remain viable without industry support, whereas the other believed that the inevitable industry influence would destroy Cochrane's credibility.

    Drummond Rennie, codirector of the Cochrane Center in San Francisco and a deputy editor of JAMA, thinks industry funding would be a catastrophe for Cochrane. “It would be far better that some reviews are not done than reviewers accept money from interested parties,” he said. In contrast, Peter Tugwell, a member of Cochrane's international steering committee and professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa, is comfortable with reviews being funded by …

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