A more rigorous conflict of interest policy is coming for Cochrane

Karla Soares-Weiser, Cochrane Library’s Editor in Chief, outlined a new conflict of interest policy that is forthcoming in 2020 in a BMJ opinion piece. Cochrane is committed to independence, transparency, and integrity in healthcare research and minimizing the impact of conflicts of interest in the conduct of Cochrane Reviews. This commitment is reflected in our current Commercial Sponsorship Policy which not only requires interests to be declared, it also rules that some conflicts will prevent authors from conducting Cochrane Reviews.  Although Cochrane’s current conflict of interest policy is stricter than most journals, we have revisited it recently with the aim of strengthening our approach to financial conflicts of interest and clarifying our position regarding non-financial interests.

Cochrane’s new, more rigorous approach includes the following key changes: 

  1. The proportion of conflict free authors in a team will increase from a simple majority to a proportion of 66% or more. 
  2. Last authors will be treated in the same way as first authors and, therefore, must be entirely free of conflicts.
  3. Authors of industry-funded clinical studies eligible for inclusion in a Cochrane Review will be prohibited from being the first or last author on that review.
  4. Reviews funded by not-for-profit organizations with a specific interest in the outcome will be assessed by Cochrane’s Conflict of Interest Arbiter Panel and the Editor in Chief, who will judge whether the review is conflicted.
  5. Cochrane authors will need to declare non-financial interests and think critically about how these might influence the results of the review.

An important motivation for strengthening our conflict of interest policy is an understanding of how this issue impacts a reader’s trust in the healthcare information they read. As an organization, Cochrane looks forward to the improvements this policy will bring in keeping Cochrane Reviews demonstrably independent and impartial in their reporting and conclusions.