Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Pharmaceutical industry sponsorship and research outcome and quality: systematic review

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 29 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1167

Rapid Response:

whose is the bias?

One of the possible explanations offered for the bias in drug-company
funded research is that pharmaceutical companies may selectively fund
trials on drugs that they consider to be superior to the competition. This
is dismissed by saying that researchers cannot predict results of trials
in advance.That is undoubtedly true, but not always true.

When applying for funding from drug companies, there's a fairly
competitive and rigorous process to go through. The pharmaceutical
companies are commercial entities, and as such would be foolish to choose
to fund research where the literature review providing the rationale for
the study to be funded indicates an unfavourable (to the product and
company) result will be the probable outcome. Researchers are as aware of
this as the companies themselves, and will apply for funding to the
company whose product is likely to be shown to best advantage in the
study, because they believe that is their best chance of obtaining the

Therefore, it may be the researchers, rather than the drug companies,
who are being selective. This should be quite simple to test for - simply
by questioning applicants for funding, or looking at all proposals, the
unsuccessful as well as the succesful. To (mis)quote, 'never ascribe to
malice what can best be explained by cupidity'!

Competing interests:  
I am employed in an organisation that critically appraises medical literature

Competing interests: No competing interests

30 May 2003
Rowena H Cave
guidelines project manager
New Zealand Guidelines Group, Wellington, NZ