December 11, 2006

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that most patients participating in cancer clinical trials do not worry about financial conflicts of interest among researchers.

More than 90 percent of the respondents "expressed little or no worry about financial ties that researchers or institutions might have with drug companies," the Nov. 30 article said. Most patients said they would have enrolled in the trial even if the drug company had paid the researcher for speaking or consulting, and if the researcher had received royalty payments or owned stock in the company. Similarly, most patients would have enrolled in the trial if the cancer center had owned stock in or received royalties from the drug company. However, 40 percent of the patients said they wanted disclosure of the oversight system for researchers and 31 percent said they wanted to know about researchers' financial interests.

"These attitudes, of course, were those of patients battling a life-threatening illness; the desire to receive a treatment may have overshadowed any concerns about financial conflicts of interest among the physicians delivering it," an accompanying editorial said. "Trust in the clinical research enterprise is a fragile commodity. Failure to preserve and protect it can easily lead to disruption and losses that may never be fully regained."

The article was based on in-person interviews with 253 patients in cancer research trials at five U.S. medical centers.