Corporate capture of the UK’s Medical Research Council?
We read with interest the recent BMJ Feature on industry funding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the independent public health watchdog in the US (1). The potential of bias resulting from industry funding of scientific research has been well documented (2).
For this reason, we are concerned about the nature of links with industry in a recent call for research proposals on non-communicable disease (NCDs) in Africa (3). The industry partner, Glaxo SmithKline (GSK), is to contribute £1 million of the £5million total funding available for the call, with the remainder funded by the UK and South African MRCs. This appears to be a prudent investment for the company. Guidance available online and via the MRC research office (Alex Harris, personal communication) indicates that shortlisted applicants will be required to work with GSK scientists to develop full proposals. Research contracts for successful applications will be negotiated directly between the host research organisation and GSK, with ongoing collaborations being encouraged. Potential applicants are explicitly advised that health policy research on tobacco policy and food and alcohol regulation, key factors which could constrain the growth of NCDs in Africa, are outside the scope of the call.
Whilst we are not against industry contributing funding for NCD research in low and middle income country settings, we feel that the arrangements outlined in the MRC joint call have the potential to undermine the independence of scientific research on this vitally important topic.
1. Lenzer J. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: protecting the private good? BMJ. 2015 May 15;350:h2362
2. Bes-Rastrollo M, Schulze MB, Ruiz-Canela M, Martinez-Gonzalez MA (2013) Financial Conflicts of Interest and Reporting Bias Regarding the Association between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews. PLoS Med 10(12): e1001578
3. MRC/South African MRC/GSK: Joint call on Non-Communicable diseases in Africa. http://www.mrc.ac.uk/funding/browse/mrc-south-african-mrc-gsk-joint-call...
Competing interests: No competing interests