Managing Conflicts of Interest in Research

Conflicts of interests in research can generally be managed through a combination of oversight and disclosure mechanisms. There are two exceptions to this general rule:

  1. A University professor typically cannot serve on the Board of Directors or in an executive position of a business entity while serving as PI or Co-I of a sponsored research project that could benefit the business entity. This is because the fiduciary duty that the professor owes to the company conflicts with the professor’s University responsibilities.
  2. A University professor cannot serve as PI or Co-I on human subjects research that the IRB determines is greater than minimal risk for human participants, while simultaneously holding a significant financial or business interest in a business entity that could benefit from the research project.

Below are examples of how research conflicts are managed:

Example 1: Significant Financial Interest and Business Interest in a Start-Up Overlap with Federally Funded Research

Professor develops a technology while conducting University research that is licensed to ABC Corp, a University start-up. The Professor serves on the Board of Directors of the company, and also holds a 10% equity interest in the company.

The Professor wants to serve as the PI for a federally funded research project concerning the same technology that ABC Corp. seeks to commercialize. ABC Corp. can benefit from the results of the University research.

A conflict of interest exists because the Professor has both a business interest through service on the Board of Directors, and a significant financial interest through the equity interest in ABC Corps. Both interests could potentially influence the objectivity of the research.

Accordingly, the Professor must decide whether he wants to pursue his company interests and give up his leadership role on the University research, or keep the PI role and give up his business and SFI in the company.

The third option would require the Professor to give up his Board position, but allow him to serve as the PI for the research with oversight by a Research Dean and disclosures.

For a sample conflict management plan in the start-up context, click HERE.

Example 2: Significant Financial Interest in a Business Entity that Sponsors Research

Professor consults for XYZ Corp, a large manufacturing company. The Professor will earn over $10,000 in remuneration from consulting this calendar year, so holds a significant financial interest in XYZ. The Professor now wants to serve as PI of a research project involving animals sponsored by XYZ.

A conflict of interest exists because the Professor holds a significant financial interest in a company that is sponsoring his research.

The Professor can be PI because he does not serve on the Board of Directors or in an executive position at XYZ and the sponsored project does not involve human subjects. The Professor will be subject to a conflict management plan that includes oversight and disclosures.

For a sample conflict management plan in the sponsoring entity context, click HERE.

For additional help, contact the Conflict of Interest Program at 612-626-1462 or repamail@umn.edu.