2.1.12 Conflicts of interest and Cochrane groups

August 2013: This policy, and Cochrane's policy relating to Cochrane Reviews is being revised. The content included here is derived from the retired Cochrane Policy Manual, but it has been reorganised into two parts, one for the policy for Cochrane groups (below) and one for the policy for Cochrane Reviews (included in the Cochrane Editorial and Publishing Policy Resource). General principle

Cochrane Reviews must be free of any real or perceived bias introduced by receipt of any benefit in cash or kind, any hospitality, or any subsidy derived from any source that may have or be perceived to have an interest in the outcome of the review. All entities that constitute Cochrane accept this general principle as a condition of participation in the organisation.

There should be a clear barrier between the production of Cochrane Reviews and any funding from commercial sources with financial interests in the conclusions of Cochrane Reviews. Introduction

August 2013: This policy, and The Cochrane Collaboration’s policy relating to Cochrane Reviews is being revised.

Background: In April 2004, Cochrane's Steering Group undertook a process of consultation on commercial sponsorship following a letter from several Cochrane members who felt that the then existing policy ought to be more restrictive – to provide still greater reassurance that the conclusions of Cochrane Reviews were not biased through the influence of funding by commercial entities that stood to benefit financially from the results of reviews.

This issue was discussed at length during the 11th annual Cochrane Colloquium, Barcelona, October 2003. A consultation document was disseminated during December 2003 with a request for views by 31 January 2004; 156 individuals or groups responded. Most were active members of Cochrane. The Steering Group met in Bergamo, Italy, from 29 February to 2 March 2004 and considered at length the very extensive and detailed documentation. An agreed policy document was disseminated on 6 April 2004. At that time, there was, for some questions, very clear consensus; for others, there was not. The Steering Group discussed unresolved issues at their meetings in Ottawa, Canada, on 1 and 4 October 2004, and in Providence, US, on 2 to 4 April 2005. They were also discussed at the annual general meeting during the 12th Cochrane Colloquium in Ottawa on 3 October 2004. Following these discussions, the policy document was amended in April 2005. Definitions

A commercial source is defined as: any for-profit manufacturer or provider of health care, or any other for-profit source with a real or potential vested interest in the findings of a specific Cochrane Review. Excluded from this definition are government departments, not-for-profit medical insurance companies, and health management organisations (even though it is recognised that they may find the conclusions of Cochrane Reviews carry financial consequences for them) and for-profit companies that do not have real or potential vested interests in Cochrane Reviews (e.g. banks).

Sponsorship of a Cochrane Review is defined as a sum of money given to an author or group of authors to prepare, or update, a Cochrane Review. Such sponsorship can include commissioning of specific systematic reviews and funding of a sabbatical period to work on a Cochrane Review.

Firewall is defined here to mean, figuratively, a fireproof wall put in place to ensure that, if a fire occurs, it is confined to one area. The term is used to indicate a clear barrier or separation between a source of funding and the use to which that funding is put, so as to prevent any influence by the funding source on the outcome of, say, a Cochrane Review. Cochrane Review Groups

To ensure the integrity (real and perceived) of the ‘firewall’, it is also prohibited for a commercial source or sources (as defined above) to sponsor Cochrane groups that produce Cochrane Reviews, that is, Cochrane Review Groups. Fields and the Consumer Network

It is also prohibited for a commercial source or sources (as defined above) to sponsor Fields and to the Consumer Network because of the close proximity of these groups to the production of Cochrane Reviews. Methods Groups

Funding from a commercial source (as defined above) for the activities of Methods Groups, or of their members, in producing Cochrane Reviews of healthcare interventions or tests, or supporting individual review groups, including peer review, is not permitted. Methodologists who have personally received remuneration or research funds from a commercial source in the previous five years should ensure that they have no involvement in reviews of interventions or tests in which the commercial source has a vested interest. The receipt and use of commercial funds by Methods Groups for other purposes must be declared in Methods Groups’ modules.

Historical note: The position on commercial funding of Methods Groups’ activities was reviewed and reconsidered at the Steering Group mid-year meeting in Khon Kaen in April 2006. Cochrane Centres

The situation with regard to Cochrane Centres is more complex than for other Cochrane groups. For example, Centres can be both close to the production of Cochrane Reviews (like Fields and the Consumer Network) but can also engage in methodological work (like Methods Groups).

As a principle, there should be no direct funding of Cochrane Centres (or Branches of Centres) by commercial sources. This includes the funding of core and non-core functions of Cochrane Centres. Direct funding of Cochrane Centres from commercial sources is prohibited. Non-direct funding of non-core activities (e.g. translation) is permitted (since 2010) from a central fund (see below).

Historical note: The position on commercial funding of Cochrane Centres’ activities was reviewed and reconsidered at the Steering Group mid-year meeting in Providence in April 2005. Direct funding of Cochrane Centres from commercial sources is prohibited from April 2010. Steering Group and Central Executive Team

Information about conflicts of interest for Steering Group members and the Central Executive Team can be found here and a full list of conflicts can be found here. Central fund for donations

A central fund is available into which unrestricted donations can be made.  There is no prohibition on donations from any single company or type of industry but that all funding of activity in Cochrane should be in keeping with Cochrane's principles. Cochrane Colloquiua

Commercial sponsorship of Cochrane Colloquia is banned (agreed by the Steering Group, April 2013). Funds from reprints of Cochrane Reviews

Authors and Cochrane Review Groups should not receive royalties on sales of reprints of their Cochrane Reviews, since these sales are likely to have been made to commercial sources and might, therefore, be assumed to be equivalent to direct sponsorship of the Cochrane Review or Group. Therefore, the current policy that royalties on reprint sales go to Cochrane centrally, via the Collaboration Trading Company, will continue. When a central fund is established, the possibility that such income should go into it will be discussed.

John Wiley and Sons Limited should continue to be encouraged to make bulk sales of The Cochrane Library and derivative products to commercial sources.


This page was updated on 5 December 2013.

Updated on: December 4, 2013, 11:45