A select core of 110 authors generated one third of all randomised controlled trials on glucose lowering drugs over the past 20 years, a review in the BMJ reveals.
Of these authors 44 percent were company employees and 56% were academics who worked closely with the pharmaceutical industry, reported the research team from The Netherlands, and Bristol in the UK.
“It is easy to understand why pharmaceutical companies seek out the assistance of such well published academic authors, for these have remarkable experience of diabetes treatment and the planning, execution, and presentation of clinical trials,” they wrote.
“They understand the expectations of clinicians and, not coincidentally, they are gifted communicators. Their names, furthermore, carry the stamp of authority, for they are “famous for being well known.”
The researchers also identified the top 11 authors, including nine academics who contributed 10% of the entire evidence base.
Over half of these “supertrialists” came from the USA, whereas 82% of the top 110 (and all of the top 11) came from just four countries: the USA, Italy, the UK, and Germany.
“This concentration of influence adds to concerns about the independence and integrity of the evidence base for treatment for diabetes,” the researchers said.
They suggest that journals provide more detail on individual contributions to research—in line with ICMJE recommendations—and that the burden of authorship should “perhaps be distributed more equitably in future.”
Writing in an accompanying editorial Elizabeth Wager, a publications consultant said academia needed to consider its role in this phenomenon.
Research institutions should ask whether their culture encourages academics to seek publication above all else by judging them on research output rather than, for example, teaching, peer review, or leadership, she said.
“We need a change of institutional culture so that, instead of being rewarded, unfeasibly lengthy CVs are discouraged,” she added.