NIH Launches Industry-Funded Alcohol Study

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NIH Launches Industry-Funded Alcohol Study

Trial tainted by conflict of interest?

By Working Nurse
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Will clinicians soon be telling patients to drink alcohol for better health? A new long-term international trial could lead to such recommendations — except that it’s funded by alcohol companies, raising serious questions about objectivity.

Raising a Glass to Controversy

Now underway, the Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health Trial (MACH15) is overseen by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This six-year randomized trial will track the health impact of daily alcohol intake by about 7,800 older adults with advanced risk of cardiovascular disease.

While such a large trial could yield valuable insights into the benefits or hazards of moderate alcohol consumption, there’s a fly in the ointment: About two-thirds of the study’s $100 million cost is coming from beer, wine and spirits companies, who had the opportunity to learn about and comment on the study well before its design was final.

Although that funding goes through the Foundation of the National Institutes of Health, which is supposed to provide a “firewall” between funders and researchers, the New York Times has learned that the study’s authors approached industry trade groups back in 2013 in hopes of generating interest in the project. The NIH is now investigating whether those contacts violated internal ethics rules regarding fundraising.

Conflict of Interest

David Jernigan, Ph.D., director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, calls the industry funding “a clear conflict of interest.” Concerns about industry backing also led at least one institution, South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, to decline an invitation to participate in the trial.

Ironically, the MACH15 study has also received harsh criticism from the trade publication Wine Industry Insight. In December, founder Lewis Perdue warned that industry financing and methodological flaws could exaggerate and amplify any negative results of the trial while obfuscating — and discrediting — any potential positive conclusions, ultimately doing the alcohol industry more harm than good.

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