In an article published a few days ago in FuturePundit, Randall Parker made a very interesting observation concerning the increasing collaboration between pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers. Citing an analysis by the Fox Chase Cancer Center, Parker highlights that 48% of the research presented at the 2011 ASCO conference had some degree of industry involvement, a significant increase from the research presented at the 2006 meeting, at which only 39% of the presented research had any connection to the pharmaceutical industry.
Increasing constraints on federal research funding are undoubtedly responsible for the shift, and some may view the increasing levels of corporate involvement with academic research as a disconcerting trend, one that threatens to subordinate the future of public health to the interests of a handful of "profit-maximizing" enterprises.
But Parker's blog post suggests that profit-oriented research will accelerate cancer drug discovery, as companies seek out the investigational targets and compounds that are most likely to produce successful drugs. Interestingly, he also cites a study that found that "studies from authors with ties to industry also tended to receive higher scores from their peers."
Corporate sponsorship of academic research does raise some legitimate conflict of interest concerns, but these can be effectively managed, and certainly shouldn't imply that industry sponsored research is biased or of lesser quality.
Of course, recent scandals over the inability of companies to replicate academic pre-clinical cancer research published in peer reviewed journals (hat tip: Ronald Bailey) also raises the issue of how much the pursuit of "funding and fame" is undermining cancer research by drug companies.
Companies, at least, face stringent FDA requirements for drugs approval - and thus have much less incentive to waste scarce research dollars on scientific dead ends. Thus the incentives of companies to find and develop better cancer treatments are closely aligned with the interests of cancer patients.