Lab Activity 3 - Alternative funding sources for priority setting activity

The JLA has been approached on a number of occasions to consider whether a JLA PSP can be funded directly by a commercial organisation.  We have been unable to accommodate these requests as it would impinge on one of the JLA’s principles of excluding groups/organisations that have significant competing or commercial interests because of the risk of influence on the results, and the undermining – perceived or actual – of the JLA’s reputation for independence.  

However, the global pandemic has meant many charities and other groups are now under severe financial pressure.  Should the constraint of avoiding commercial funding mean that they should be prevented from working with the JLA to set research priorities with their community? 

The JLA recognises this challenge and would like to test the assumption about possible influence of commercial funding on priority setting activity.  We will do this within the JLA Lab space, away from the usual JLA PSP activity, to ensure the integrity of the main PSP process and ensure a clear separation.

The JLA agreed to work with Crohn’s & Colitis Australia in a priority setting exercise for Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Australia that replicated the JLA method but was funded by mixed unrestricted grants from two pharmaceutical organisations and philanthropy.  The pharmaceutical organisations took no part in the process and had no access to data or materials of the priority setting work until it was publicly available information.  There was no requirement to report to the funders during the process, other than to mention the source of funding in any publications.

This is clearly distinct from agreed JLA principles. This work has not been described, branded, or reported as a JLA PSP.   The report of the priority setting work outlines the background, the Australian context, and feedback received from participants when asked about the potential influence of the source of funding on the outcomes of the priority setting exercise.

Questions and answers:

How will you differentiate this from the other JLA PSPs which have worked hard to avoid commercial funding?

This was not a JLA PSP.  Crohn’s & Colitis Australia worked with the JLA to set their community’s priorities for research.  This was an experiment that will help the JLA understand whether a commercial source of funding makes a difference to priority setting activity and perceptions of it.  The JLA has reported on the process and we welcome feedback from the JLA community.

Why does the JLA want to try this?

The creation of the JLA Lab has provided an opportunity to try to answer a question that we have been asked several times – whether priority setting work can be independent when it is directly funded by commercial sources.  Crohn’s & Colitis Australia had limited other options for philanthropic funding during the Covid-19 pandemic.  They wanted to use their commercial sources of funding to allow patients, carers and clinicians to have a say in the future research agenda and were impressed by the JLA’s reputation for strong consumer involvement.  Waiting an unknown length of time until the financial situation recovered from the effects of Covid-19 would have caused an unacceptable delay to helping their community set priorities.

What about other groups who have wanted to undertake a JLA PSP in the past using funding from a commercial source?

The JLA principle of prohibiting commercial involvement in PSPs still stands and no PSP should include funding from this source.  However, the JLA will be happy to consider opportunities to explore this principle further.

Does this mean that the core principles of the JLA are changing?

We reiterate our commitment to JLA PSPs and the principles.  This was not a JLA PSP but an alternative activity which supports our community and tested a different approach.  It doesn’t affect or undermine any standard JLA PSP activity.  Potential outcomes of this work include confirmation that we cannot engage in priority setting activity that draws on commercial funding.   The JLA would only consider making changes to core principles following consultation with the wider community, including the Advisory Group and wider public consultation on our website.

Delivering a commercially funded priority setting exercise is an important experiment for the JLA and we welcome feedback on this activity.