Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Study: Industry funding of surgical oncologists dominated by pharma, shows gender disparity 

By David Schwartz
Published: November 5th, 2019

Results of a new study highlight the expanding role of surgical oncologists in industry-sponsored clinical trials. Among the findings from study data presented at the 2019 Society of Surgical Oncology Annual Cancer Symposium, the majority of industry research payments to surgical oncologists were related to clinical trials for novel pharmaceuticals rather than medical devices. Findings from the retrospective analysis also showed that industry payments were influenced by location, academic leadership and gender, with male surgical oncologists receiving funding more frequently and at higher levels than female oncologists.

“Our research shows that the majority of industry research payments to surgical oncologists originated from pharmaceuticals and not from surgical device companies,” reports Juan Antonio Santamaria-Barria, MD, a surgical oncology fellow at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA. The results also show that “efforts should be made by companies to mitigate gender disparities in funding,” he adds.

Santamaria-Barria notes that declines in NIH funding have given rise to more dependence on industry-sponsored research in oncology.

The researchers focused on 922 surgical oncologists practicing primarily in academia. “Assuming a 2:1 male-to-female ratio, we identified gender disparities in these academic ranks,” Santamaria- Barria says. “Females were more likely to be assistant professors, whereas males were more likely to be chairs/CEOs/deans and division chief professors.”

Sex disparities were also found in industry funding. Between 2013 and 2017, industry funding included $46.6 million in research payments to 162 of the academic surgical oncologists in the study group, coming from 58 different companies: The vast majority of those funds, 87%, was for research related to drugs and clinical trials, compared with 11% for surgical devices.

Of the 162 surgical oncologists who received research payments, 74% were men compared with 26% women. Male surgical oncologists were also more frequently funded by industry: 20.4% of the time versus only 12.6% for women. In addition, men received significantly more in general payments for travel/lodging, food/beverage, and consulting/speaker fees.

The majority of industry funding came from Amgen, Merck, and Novartis.

Alicia M. Terando, MD, an associate professor of clinical surgery with a specialty in surgical oncology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, says she is not surprised by the findings related to gender because these types of disparities are seen across all industries related to women’s promotion and compensation.

“Women have fewer role models and so have fewer opportunities for mentorship,” Terando points out. With respect to disparities in general payments, she cites a general lack of knowledge about investigator fees, which must be negotiated when opening a trial.

“No one tells you ahead of time what an appropriate fee for an investigator is,” she observed. “I was essentially doing these trials for free, thinking it was part of my job. I had no idea I was supposed to ask for funding for my time and effort.”

Terando stresses the importance of continuing to raise awareness and said it will be incumbent upon female faculty to reach out and develop mentoring relationships if change is going to occur.

“People putting panels together at conferences or asking people to participate in clinical trials should keep diversity in mind and try to utilize people who are earlier in their careers so that they can gain advancement and experience,” she advises.

Source: Clinical Oncology News

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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