ASCO Removes Restrictions on Researchers’ Conflict of Interest
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has removed all restrictions on author relationships previously in the 2013 Policy for Relationships with Companies statement, and all eligible manuscripts and abstracts otherwise will be considered for peer review, regardless of any financial relationships of authors. The decision was announced in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the official journal of ASCO, in January 2017.
The 2013 policy restricted publication and presentation of research in certain ASCO forums, making abstracts and articles describing company-funded original research to be ineligible for consideration if the first, last, or corresponding author had been a company employee, investor, or paid speaker during the previous two years. ASCO felt that since they are a “leading source of cancer information worldwide,” and therefore, they “have a responsibility to ensure that important new information is disseminated to our members and the larger cancer community.”
The policy prompted researchers to voice their concerns of barring “ASCO members and highly qualified scientists from presenting their important original research to the oncology community in a setting where the work could be critically reviewed and discussed.” Following the outpour of such concerns, the restrictions were placed on hold and ASCO collected data for the following two years on the relationships of authors who submitted manuscripts or abstracts.
The collected data showed that potentially restricted submissions amounted to less than two percent of accepted journal articles, and roughly eleven percent of accepted meeting abstracts. The largest number of the abstracts related to developmental therapeutics and tumor biology, and a majority of them were accepted for poster presentation or publication. Turning to the remaining small number of abstracts accepted for oral presentation, ASCO examined the existing conflict of interest management strategies that the organization employs, such as slide review and live audit, when a heightened risk of bias is identified through disclosure.
Chief Medical Officer of ASCO, Richard L. Schilsky, MD, along with his ASCO colleagues, finally decided, “We have reached the conclusion that continued disclosure of commercial relationships, rigorous peer review, and management of potential conflicts of interest for all work submitted to ASCO best support our goals of trust and transparency and providing value to our members as a source for scientifically sound and unbiased original research.”
“ASCO continues to support universal and accessible disclosure of financial relationships with companies by authors, speakers, reviewers and participants in ASCO activities,” Schilsky and colleagues wrote. “ASCO welcomes further research and engagement with audiences on the most effective ways of communicating and managing disclosure information and on the impact of conflict of interest policies on scientific discourse.”
ASCO notes that it is important to point out that the ASCO policy continues to meet (or exceed) standards for accredited continuing medical education providers developed by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education Standards for Commercial Support as well as the standards for other interactions with companies described in the Council of Medical Specialty Societies Code for Interactions with Companies. Thus, eliminating author restrictions on submissions does not remove the prohibition on some company employees as speakers at ASCO meetings where accredited continuing medical education is offered.