Can clinical trials funding source be associated with favorable published outcomes?

Outcome Reporting Among Drug Trials Registered in

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Medical science is being undermined when researchers do not publish all their findings, or are changing the things they are measuring after looking at the data… Matt Buck.


Through increased awareness of misreported outcomes, individual accountability, and feedback for specific journals, could we improve the quantity and quality of the medical data released to the general public?

Clinical trial registries are in widespread use to promote transparency around trials and their results.

To describe characteristics of drug trials listed in and examine whether the funding source of these trials is associated with favorable published outcomes.

An observational study of safety and efficacy trials for anticholesteremics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, proton-pump inhibitors, and vasodilators conducted between 2000 and 2006.

Setting, a Web-based registry of clinical trials launched in 1999.

Publications resulting from the trials for the 5 drug categories of interest were identified, and data were abstracted on the trial record and publication, including timing of registration, elements of the study design, funding source, publication date, and study outcomes. Assessments were based on the primary funding categories of industry, government agencies, and nonprofit or nonfederal organizations.

Among 546 drug trials, 346 (63%) were primarily funded by industry, 74 (14%) by government sources, and 126 (23%) by nonprofit or nonfederal organizations. Trials funded by industry were more likely to be phase 3 or 4 trials (88.7%; P < 0.001 across groups), to use an active comparator in controlled trials (36.8%; P = 0.010 across groups), to be multicenter (89.0%; P < 0.001 across groups), and to enroll more participants (median sample size, 306 participants; P < 0.001 across groups). Overall, 362 (66.3%) trials had published results. Industry-funded trials reported positive outcomes in 85.4% of publications, compared with 50.0% for government-funded trials and 71.9% for nonprofit or nonfederal organization–funded trials (P < 0.001). Trials funded by nonprofit or nonfederal sources with industry contributions were also more likely to report positive outcomes than those without industry funding (85.0% vs. 61.2%; P = 0.013). Rates of trial publication within 24 months of study completion ranged from 32.4% among industry-funded trials to 56.2% among nonprofit or nonfederal organization–funded trials without industry contributions (P = 0.005 across groups).

The publication status of a trial could not always be confirmed, which could result in misclassification. Additional information on study protocols and comprehensive trial results were not available to further explore underlying factors for the association between funding source and outcome reporting.

In this sample of registered drug trials, those funded by industry were less likely to be published within 2 years of study completion and were more likely to report positive outcomes than were trials funded by other sources.

Sources and more information
  • Outcome Reporting Among Drug Trials Registered in, NCBI PMCID: PMC3374868, 2012 Jun 14.
  • How Scientists Are Doing A Bait-And-Switch With Medical Data, BuzzFeed, Jan. 22, 2016.
  • The COMPare (CEBM Outcome Monitoring Project) website and blog.

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