Why Are Drug Companies Funding Less Academic Research?

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

Fewer academic biomedical scientists are relying on industry support for their research than in the mid-'90s, according to a study highlighted today in The Boston Globe. That's the most surprising result of the latest survey of industry relationships at universities led by conflicts of interest expert Eric Campbell of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Campbell and his co-workers found that 20% of the more than 2000 life sciences faculty who responded in 2007 have direct industry funding, according to a paper in Health Affairs. That's down from 28% in a 1995 survey.

In a press release, the authors point to the growth of the National Institutes of Health budget and level research funding in industry as possible factors—as well as a growing public uproar about drug company payments. “Industry relationships may be declining because of increased regulation by universities as well as a general attitude among the public that working with industry is somehow bad,” Campbell says.

One of Campbell's longstanding messages hasn't changed: Industry relationships are pervasive in academic biomedicine.

More than half (53%) of respondents reported industry ties (such as consulting, speaking, or receiving research grants from drug companies), and they tended to be the more senior and productive faculty. Still, Campbell argues that it should be possible to find experts without industry connections to fill the rosters of federal advisory committees.

In a related story, The New York Times reviews provisions in the big health care reform bills that would require drug companies to report their payments to physicians (but not necessarily basic researchers) in a public database. Campbell served on an Institute of Medicine panel that earlier this year endorsed such a database for all payments as well as full disclosure of faculty members’ industry ties to their universities.

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