The limits of research institutions in setting research priorities

Journal of Medical Ethics 43 (12):810-811 (2017)
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Abstract

In When Clinical Trials Compete: Prioritizing Study Recruitment, Gelinas et al tackle an important issue—study non-completion—and draw conclusions with which we largely agree. Most importantly, we accept that setting priorities among competing research studies is necessary and should be informed by ethical analysis. We disagree with the conclusion of Gelinas et al that this priority setting should take place at the level of the individual research institution. At a minimum, they should consider other actors who might be better suited for this role instead of—or alongside—the institutions that host research. Our view is motivated by three main considerations. First, research institutions have significant latitude to promote their own interests, and there is reason to suspect that their interests do not closely align with the interests of the public. Thus, asking research institutions to set research priorities may result in the selection of studies with suboptimal social value. Second, a large proportion of clinical trials recruits participants at multiple institutions.1 If each institution sets its own priorities, we can expect discrepancies between the priorities set by partner institutions. These discrepancies may delay and discourage collaborative research projects. Finally, we suspect that a great deal of recruitment competition occurs between, rather than within, research institutions. Setting priorities only at …

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Joseph Millum
University of St. Andrews