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Changes in Conflict of Interest Rules Illustrate Lessons in UIDP Publication

A recent article in STAT, “Harvard Medical School eases rule on faculty ties to industry,” illustrates several of the most important lessons put forth in the UIDP publication, UIDP Principled Partnerships Quick Guide:

  • Potential conflicts can be prevented and the public trust preserved: Avoiding conflicts of interest is less practical than identifying, monitoring, and arbitrating conflicts of interest. As the federal language says, potential or actual conflicts should be “reduced, managed, or eliminated.” At the same time, potential conflicts of interest cannot be allowed to undermine the goals of a principled partnership. Harvard Medical School concluded that its former policy undermined the goals of its partnerships, and so they eased the rules in the policy.
  • Disclosure of financial interests does not mean bias or conflict can be assumed, simply that the federally defined thresholds for disclosure have been met. By raising the threshold of income that is allowable in disclosures, Harvard Medical School is acknowledging that researchers’ higher amounts of income do not necessarily impede their objectivity as researchers.
  • Most universities have established a committee to determine if a financial interest could be a financial conflict of interest. The new policy at the Harvard Medical School allows researchers to appeal to an ethics committee for doing research if their income from the company exceeds the threshold. This leaves room for considerations regarding the ultimate benefits of allowing the researcher to do the work, even when they receive an income above the threshold levels. This ensures that the policy will not unnecessarily block important medical advances.

In addition to the lessons highlighted above, the UIDP Principled Partnerships Quick Guide outlines actions that a recipient institution can take when it determines that a financial conflict of interest exists. These include requiring:

  • mandatory disclosure,
  • annual monitoring,
  • revision of study design,
  • revision of researcher’s duties,
  • oversight from an independent reviewer
  • reduction of the financial interest, and
  • divestment of the financial interest.

Similar processes should in place with industry partners, and many of these provisions are incorporated into contracts governing these collaborations.

For additional information on Principled Partnerships, download the publication here. This is a publicly available document and UIDP member organizations can request hard copies by emailing