Context Despite federal regulations on faculty conflicts of interest in fed
erally funded research, academic-industry ties are common, and evidence exi
sts that financial considerations bias the research record. Public scrutiny
of these ties is increasing, especially in cases where researchers have fi
nancial interests in the corporate sponsors of their clinical research.
Objective To review policies on conflict of interest at major biomedical re
search institutions in the United,States.
Design Cross-sectional survey and content analysis study conducted from Aug
ust 1998 to February 2000.
Setting and Participants The 100 US institutions with the most funding from
the National Institutes of Health in 1998 were initially sampled; policies
from 89 institutions were available and included in the analysis.
Main Outcome Measures Process for disclosure, review, and management of con
flicts of interest and specified management strategies or limitations, acco
rding to the institutions' faculty/staff conflict of interest policies.
Results Content of the conflict of interest policies varied widely across i
nstitutions. Fifty-five percent of policies (n=49) required disclosures fro
m all faculty while 45% (n =40) required them only from principal investiga
tors or those conducting research. Nineteen percent of policies (n=17) spec
ified limits on faculty financial interests in corporate sponsors of resear
ch, 12% (n=11) specified limits on permissible delays in publication, and 4
% (n=4) prohibited student involvement in work sponsored by a company in wh
ich the faculty mentor had a financial interest.
Conclusions Most policies on conflict of interest in our sample of major re
search institutions in the United States lack specificity about the kinds o
f relationships with industry that are permitted or prohibited. Wide variat
ion in management of conflicts of interest among institutions may cause unn
ecessary confusion among potential industrial partners or competition among
universities for corporate sponsorship that could erode academic standards
. It is in the long-term interest of institutions to develop widely agreed-
on, clear, specific, and credible policies on conflicts of interest.