Background: Financial conflict of interest in clinical research is an area of active debate. While data exist on the perspectives and roles of academic institutions, investigators, industry sponsors, and scientific journals, little is known about the perspectives of potential research participants.
Methods: The authors surveyed potential research participants over the internet, using the Harris Interactive Chronic Illness Database. A potential research participant was defined by: (1) self report of diagnosis by a health care professional and (2) willingness to participate in clinical trials. Email invitations were sent to 20 205 persons with coronary artery disease, breast cancer, or depression; a total of 6363 persons were screened; of these, 86% or 5478 met inclusion criteria and completed the survey. The outcome measures were respondents' ratings on: importance of knowing conflict of interest information, whether its disclosure ought to be required, and its effect on willingness to participate—across seven widely discussed scenarios of financial conflicts of interest (ranging from commercial funding to equity ownership).
Results: Majority responded that knowing conflict of interest information was "extremely" or "very" important; a larger majority felt financial conflicts of interest should be disclosed as part of informed consent (64% to 87%). In all seven scenarios, a majority was still willing to participate but in some scenarios a sizable minority would be wary of participation. Respondents were more wary of individual than institutional conflicts of interest. Illness group and sociodemographic factors had modest effects and did not affect the main trends.
Conclusions: The prevailing practice of non-disclosure of financial conflicts of interest in clinical research appears contrary to the values of potential research participants.