Importance: For the past decade, more attention and concern has been directed toward financial relationships between the life science industry and physicians. Relationships between industry and institutional review board (IRB) members represent an important subclass that has the potential to broadly influence decisions regarding medical research.
Objectives: To study the nature, extent, and perceived consequences of industry relationships among IRB members in academic health centers and to compare our results with findings from 2005.
Design, setting, and participants: A survey mailed to IRB members from the 115 most research-intensive medical schools and teaching hospitals in the United States from January 16 through May 16, 2014. The survey included questions identical to those used in 2005. Data analysis was conducted from June through October 2014.
Main outcomes and measures: The frequency of industry relationships among IRB members and the perceived effect of those relationships on IRB-related activities.
Results: We found no significant change in the percentage of IRB members with an industry relationship from 2005 through 2014 (2005: 37.2%; 95% CI, 32.7%-42.0%; 2014: 32.1%; 95% CI, 28.0%-36.4%; P = .09). However, since 2005, the percentage of members who felt another member did not properly disclose a financial relationship decreased from 10.8% (95% CI, 8.0%-14.4%) to 6.7% (95% CI, 4.7%-9.4%) (P = .04), as did the percentage who felt pressure from their institution or department to approve a protocol (2005: 18.6%; 95% CI, 15.0%-22.9%; 2014: 10.0%; 95% CI, 7.6%-13.0%; P < .001). The percentage of members with a conflict of interest who voted on protocols with which they have a conflict has not changed, although the percentage who said they always disclose relationships increased significantly from 54.9% in 2005 (95% CI, 42.2%-66.9%) to 80.0% in 2014 (95% CI, 65.3%-89.4%) (P = .01). We also found evidence of anti-industry bias in the presentation of protocols to the IRB.
Conclusions and relevance: The results show significant positive progress in the reporting and management of conflicts of interest among IRB members in academic health centers since 2005 after adjusting for other factors. Additional attention should be focused on deterring IRB members from inappropriately voting on or presenting protocols in a biased manner.