A new study shows just how much influence industrial firms have on the research they fund.

The study found that in most industry funded trials reported in high impact medical journals, all aspects of the trial involved the industry funder.

University of Sydney and Danish researchers looked at 200 vaccine, drug and device studies published in high impact journals.

They found the trial publications often lacked basic information about essential parts of the studies, like who conducted the statistical analysis and how the funder was involved.

Even when both funder and academic authors were involved in the design, conduct, and reporting of most trials, few industry funded trials were completely independently conducted by academics, and sometimes industry involvement was downplayed or omitted.

Ninety-two per cent of trials reported funder involvement in design and 84 per cent listed academic author involvement.

Trial reporting involved the funder in 87 per cent of trials and academic authors in 99 per cent, while contract research organisations were involved in the reporting of 62 per cent trials.

In contrast, the results show that data analysis was most often done by funder or contract research organisation (CRO) employees, without academic involvement.

For example, data analysis involved the funder in 73 per cent of trials and the academic authors in 40 per cent.

Only 4 per cent of trials were classified as independent trials (that is, all aspects of the industry funded trial were carried out by academic authors without involvement of the funder or a CRO).

The researchers then surveyed the lead academic author of each trial. Questions covered design, analysis, and reporting of the trial, data access, trial agreements, and experience with the collaboration.

Thirty-three per cent reported that academics had final say on the design. About ten per cent described involvement of an unnamed funder and/or CRO employee in the data analysis and/or reporting.

Most of the authors reported access to data, but the researchers say that reported access to data does not always mean access to the entire trial dataset.

Most authors found the collaboration with industry funder beneficial, but 4 per cent experienced delay in publication due to the industry funder and 11 per cent reported disagreements with the industry funder, mostly concerning trial design and reporting.

The findings should prompt more accurate reporting of contributorship “to give patients greater confidence in trial results and conclusions,” say the researchers.

Trials from high impact journals have important effect on clinical decisions, yet only a few of the included trials had independent analysis, they note.

“However, academics can demand control over design, data storage, and full data ownership, analysis, and reporting, thereby improving independence and greater reliability of trial results,” they conclude.

“Independent trials are the way forward,” the research team said in an opinion article.

“Our clinical recommendations depend on clinical trials being reliable and conducted in the patients’ best interests, without commercial considerations … the academic community should refuse collaboration where industry demands control over trial design, conduct, data, statistical analysis, or reporting.”

The full study is accessible here.