Examples of Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest:
An institution's researcher holds an executive position with a company that stands to benefit from the research being conducted at the institution. In this situation, it is very easy for the public to suspect that the researcher would not be objective in conducting or reporting the results of the research. Either positive or negative research results are likely to effect the company. If the researcher has an executive position in the company, he/she also has a fiduciary responsibility to that company. This places the researcher in conflict with his/ her primary responsibility to the institution to conduct the research in an objective and ethical manner.
An institution's researcher holds equity over a certain dollar amount or percentage of a company that stands to benefit from the research study at the institution. In this situation, the researcher does not have a fiduciary responsibility to the company. Instead, the conflict is purely financial. Good research results that benefit the company, may also benefit the researcher financially. Research results that negatively impact the company would also reduce the value of the researcher’s equity. This does not necessarily mean a researcher would conduct research unethically, however, the likelihood of that occurring and the public perception that the research is tainted are increased when researchers hold significant equity in a company that can benefit from his or her research.
A researcher receives significant financial compensation in the form of consulting payments or payment for services on a company’s advisory board from a company that will be affected by the research study. As in the previous example, this situation involves financial benefits to the researcher. He or she could easily feel pressured to report only positive results if his or her future income from the company might be affected.
Examples of Potential Management Strategies:
Conflict of Interest Committees have a range of options available to them when a conflict of interest needs to be managed. Each situation will have its own unique aspects. Therefore, the committee must carefully review each situation and ensure that the problems or potential problems are adequately addressed. At the same time, it is important that the Committee not over-manage the situation so that the research is not impeded unnecessarily. Some of the options available to the Conflict of Interest Committee are:
- Require that the researcher disclose his or her conflicting financial interests to all collaborators and any proposed trainees;
- Require that the researcher disclose financial interests in any public release of study results (this is a common requirement in many professional journals);
- Require that the researcher have a person unaffiliated with his or her research provide an objective review of any manuscripts intended for publication;
- Require that the researcher revise aspects of the research project so as to mitigate any real or potential conflicts;
- Prohibit the researcher from participating in certain proposed research activities; and,
- Require that the researcher reduce or divest the significant financial interest.