An official Cochrane policy. Last updated June 2014.
Conflicts of interest and Cochrane Groups
June 2014: This policy, and Cochrane's policy relating to Cochrane Reviews has been revised and reorganized into two parts: one for the policy for Cochrane Groups (below) and individuals, and one for the policy for Cochrane Reviews (included in the Cochrane Editorial and Publishing Policy Resource).
If there are questions about how this policy should be implemented, under what conditions the policy applies, if conflicts of interest are unclear, or there is no agreement between the parties, the matter will be referred to the Funding Arbiter Panel, who will assess the potential conflict of interest and make a recommendation.
The Funding Arbiter Panel is nominated by the Governing Board (formerly the Steering Group) and contains three to four Cochrane contributors and one external person. In making an assessment, the Funding Panel will consider the principles outlined below.
Principles informing this policy
While Cochrane has adopted the uniform requirements for declaration of conflicts of interests framework produced by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, Cochrane and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews differ from many journals in two ways: (1) certain types of sponsorship are forbidden; and (2) we ask for disclosure of conflicts of interests at the beginning of a review process (title registration). Such declarations may be managed within the Cochrane Review Group processes or be referred to the Funding Arbiter for discussion and decision-making.
Independence: Cochrane Reviews must be independent of conflicts of interest associated with commercial sponsorship and should be conducted by people or organizations that are free of such bias.
Free from interference: The process for conducting Cochrane Reviews and the Cochrane Groups and contributors responsible for producing Cochrane Reviews should operate free from interference.
Assurance: Users of Cochrane Reviews should be assured that Cochrane Reviews are produced in an independent manner.
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.
‘Commercial sponsor or source’: any for-profit manufacturer or any other for-profit source with a real or potential vested interest in the findings of a specific review.
This definition is not intended to include government departments, not-for-profit medical insurance companies and health management organizations, although clauses 6-8 below are relevant for all funders. Also not included are for-profit companies that do not have real or potential vested interests in Cochrane Reviews (e.g. banks).
Commercial sponsorship of Cochrane Groups
The independence of Cochrane Groups and their activities must be ensured. Therefore, Cochrane Groups are not permitted to accept funds from commercial sponsors or commercial sources.
Cochrane Groups that violate this policy by accepting commercial funding may be de-registered, following an investigation by the appropriate body.
Governing Board (formerly the Steering Group)
All members of the Governing Board are members of Cochrane Groups and subject to the conflict of interest policies outlined above. All Governing Board conflict of interest declarations are available online.
Central Executive Team
All Central Executive Team conflict of interest declarations are available online.
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.
Commercial sponsorship of Cochrane Colloquia is banned (agreed by the Steering Group, April 2013). More information is available on the Colloquium website.
In April 2004, the Cochrane Steering Group undertook a process of consultation on commercial sponsorship following a letter from several Cochrane contributors 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.
In 2014, the Steering Group approved a revised version of the Commercial Sponsorship Policy, and this section has been updated in response.