Intended for healthcare professionals


Australian research council reviews conflict of interest requirements

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 09 June 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2338
  1. Melissa Sweet
  1. 1Sydney

    Australian researchers, universities, and other research institutions are likely to face measures aimed at ensuring conflicts of interest are declared.

    The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is considering recommendations that would require researchers to publicly declare conflicts of interest on university and other institutional websites.

    The council has also been asked to consider establishing its own conflict of interest committee, to provide advice internally and to act as a reference for other bodies, and to require research institutions to establish similar committees.

    The suggestions were made by senior researchers and NHMRC members at a workshop on transparency and conflicts of interest convened by the council in Canberra last week.

    “The ideas that came up are all worth consideration, and we will take those ideas to our council over the next six months,” Warwick Anderson, chief executive officer of the council, told the BMJ after the workshop.

    The council is also developing standards for the management of competing interests in the development of guidelines for clinical practice, after finding evidence that these are poorly managed at present.

    A broad ranging survey of clinical practice guidelines, involving 313 produced in Australia between 2003 and 2007, found that 79% did not mention whether the authors had any competing interests. None of those declaring conflicts gave information about how these were managed or the value of the financial relationship.

    Heather Buchan, an adviser at the NHMRC who conducted the survey, said that a US study had found that most authors of guidelines have competing interests and that the new standard is likely to require documentation of how conflicts are declared and managed.

    James Best, chairman of the NHMRC research committee, said that many of the arrangements that link researchers with industry, such as industry funded trials, education, advisory boards, and guidelines, are marketing tools.

    “Today’s meeting is an example of NHMRC’s commitment to good practice in this area,” he said.

    Bruce Neal, a senior director at The George Institute for International Health, which receives substantial industry funding, said that the matter was bigger than simply researchers’ previous conflicts of interest. Researchers’ chances of obtaining future industry funding could be influenced by how they reported the results of their independent, investigator driven research, he said.

    Agnes Vitry, a senior research fellow from the University of South Australia and a member of Healthy Skepticism, an international group that works to reduce misleading drug promotion, said that she was concerned that the NHMRC had not committed to implement the recent US Institute of Medicine’s report on conflicts of interest.

    “Compared to the relevant Institute of Medicine proposals for institutions such as NHMRC, we are far behind,” she said.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b2338

    View Abstract

    Log in

    Log in through your institution


    * For online subscription