Several leading medical journals are planning a new publishing policy designed to empower academic authors who collaborate with industry.
Aimed at authors who work with drug companies on clinical trials, the policy should help academics retain full control of the content and timing of research results produced in industrial collaborations.
Critics contend that drug companies can exert excessive influence over the publication of work that they have paid for, potentially suppressing negative results, for example.
The journals — including the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet — will announce the joint policy in mid-September. They are expected to reject reports from trials sponsored by drug companies unless the authors have been granted explicit control over the data and the decision to publish.
In an interview with Nature, Jeffrey Drazen, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, was tight-lipped about the details of the policy, whose existence was reported in the Washington Post on 5 August. But he was less coy about the circumstances that prompted the editors to develop it.
“Academic investigators have had less and less opportunities to work with pharmaceutical sponsors with respect to study design, data analysis and interpretation, and manuscript drafting,” he says. “They're given a 'take it or leave it' stance.”
The new policy is intended to help academic investigators negotiate more favourable terms with companies, Drazen says. As companies seek the endorsement that publication of a positive trial in a journal implies, they may be willing to give more freedom to their academic collaborator.
George Lundberg, editor-in-chief of online medical journal Medscape, says that the policy's overall goals are “praiseworthy”. But he is unsure how effective it will be in helping journals establish more editorial independence. “The devil will be in the details,” he says.
For example, Lundberg wonders how far any policy where authors have to pledge their independence can be extended, and whether authors will be expected to vouch for their full independence from their universities and granting agencies as well.
News of the policy attracted a mixed reception. A spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America questions whether the policy is necessary. But the New York-based Citizens for Responsible Care & Research, a consumer group that has been critical of medical research conduct, says that it supports the policy's ends, but doubts that it will contain the means to achieve them.
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Smaglik, P. Medical journals seek means to free authors from industry. Nature 412, 572 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35088187