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Draft Policies for NHMRC Committees and Working Groups Developing Guidelines Submission

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Organisation Name: 
Management Advisory Group, QIMR
C. Additional Information
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Biomedical research institute / organisation
E. Submission
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We wish to address the issue of Conflict of Interest, and specifically to suggest that all decisions on CoI are made by the Senior Official and the Chair of the Committee or Working Group (or with the Deputy Chair for decisions relating directly to the Chair).


The current interpretation by Senior Officials, without input from the Chairs, of what constitutes a CoI has led to inappropriate decisions: for example, a major conflict being declared because of joint membership of a Committee, but no conflict recognised for a new collaboration between a interviewing committee member and applicant, in which the committee member would benefit if the application were successful.


In addition, the nature of science is changing in a number of areas because of increased national and international collaboration. Frequently, co-authorships on large studies result from collective sharing of resources and not from direct collaboration which suggest that the criteria for determining CoI should be reviewed and revised. The primary objective of the assessment process is to determine the quality of the science or evidence, in the case of clinical guidelines. This requires specific expertise in the area under consideration and frequently can be of a very factual and objective basis. Guaranteeing that this happens in a fair and defensible manner is important, but if the interpretation of conflict of interest is too broad it can mitigate against this primary objective.  For example, we would advocate reviewing low CoIs that obliterate the pool of potential reviewers or experts (e.g. joint authors on multi-site papers; co-membership of unrelated committees; past co-publication in the absence of any ongoing collaboration); these should not be the sole grounds for excluding individuals as assessors or expert advisors. Instead, such secondary CoIs should be declared (and publicly registered if needs be), but the assessor or advisor's scientific opinion could then still be offered and used as part of the overall assessment process. This mirrors the approach adopted by most major scientific journals, conference committees and scientific bodies, who request that all CoIs be publically declared, but do not necessarily act as disqualifications on expert opinion. Co-publication five years ago, with no continuing collaboration, should be seen as much less of a conflict than a new collaboration that has not yet produced any papers, and might not necessarily involve co-investigators on a grant applications.

Page reviewed: 5 November, 2012