Objectives: To characterise research relationships between medical specialists and the pharmaceutical industry in Australia.
Design and setting: Questionnaire survey of medical specialists listed in the Medical Directory of Australia and believed to be in active practice, conducted in 2002 and 2003.
Main outcome measures: Details of medical specialists' involvement in pharmaceutical industry-sponsored research, and reports of potentially undesirable research outcomes.
Results: Of 2120 specialists approached, 823 (39%) responded. Participation in pharmaceutical industry-sponsored research was more commonly reported by those in salaried practice (49%) than those in private practice (33%); P < 0.001. 216 reported that industry had made initial contact, compared with 117 who had initiated contact with industry. 14.0% of respondents reported premature termination of industry-sponsored trials, which they considered appropriate when in response to concerns about adverse drug effects. 12.3% of respondents reported that industry staff had written first drafts of reports, which they viewed as an acceptable practice for "internal" documents only. Of greatest concern to respondents were instances of delayed publication or non-publication of key negative findings (reported by 6.7% and 5.1% of respondents, respectively), and concealment of results (2.2%). Overall, 71 respondents (8.6%) had experienced at least one event that could represent breaches of research integrity.
Conclusions: These data indicate a high level of engagement in research between the pharmaceutical industry and medical specialists, including those in private practice. Examples of possibly serious research misconduct were reported by 8.6% of respondents, equivalent to 21% of those with an active research relationship with industry.