Research Ethics Roundup: clinical trials for apps, pharmaceutical marketing on TikTok, and more

This month’s Research Ethics Roundup covers funding for ARPA-H, a call to trial apps like drugs, an open letter to stop universities accepting fossil fuel research funding, and pharmaceutical marketing on TikTok.

Biden’s agency to ‘end cancer as we know it’ is finally real. But it has a chaotic road ahead
STAT | Lev Facher

As discussed in the February PRIM&R Member Newsletter (members-only link), Congress voted to fund ARPA-H, the agency meant to take on riskier, high-impact health research projects. However, despite the “yes” vote, which was bundled into a pandemic preparedness bill, the agency was only funded to the tune of $1 billion, significantly lower than what the Biden administration asked for originally. The major question of whether or not the new agency would sit within NIH was, in a surprise move, “punted” to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, who was given less than a month to decide if ARPA-H would be an independent agency.

We Run Clinical Trials for Medications, Why Not for Apps?
Medical Bag | Ben Locwin, PhD, MS, MBA

In this short piece, author Ben Locwin argues that digital apps with substantial (or potentially substantial) effects on human health should be run through a clinical trial-like testing, given their widespread use and potential for harm. Locwin suggests that we ask three questions of appmakers in considering whether they’re appropriate for use: Will it be widely used? Does it contain “content that may present a moral or ethical hazard?” And does the app encourage compulsive behavior?

More than 500 academics call on universities to stop accepting research funding from fossil fuel industry
The Hill | Zack Budryk

A large group of researchers from the US and the UK have signed an open letter to universities urging them to create policies banning the acceptance of funding from fossil fuel companies. In their letter, the academics liken accepting fossil fuel monies to accepting tobacco industry funding, which, according to The Hill, “which numerous institutions already have a policy of rejecting” given those companies’ obscuring of the link between tobacco products and health harms. The scientists say that accepting fossil fuel industry funding presents similar risk of misinformation in obscuring fossil fuels’ impact on health and the environment.

If pharma can market to youths by TikTok, it should include them in clinical trials
STAT First Opinion | Sneha Dave

Though around a quarter of those diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease are diagnosed before 16, according to this STAT piece, and though companies creating products to treat that condition are advertising them to teens and young adults on social media platforms like TikTok, those age cohorts are still either un- or underrepresented in trials for these products. Author Sneha Dave argues that this lack of representation in trials leads to a gap in our knowledge about how well these drugs work in all the groups that take them.