Conflicts of Interest on Expert Committees: The Case of FDA Drug Advisory Committees


Governments and firms often use committees of experts to help them make complex decisions, but conflicts of interest could bias experts’ recommendations. We focus on whether financial ties to drug companies bias FDA drug advisory committee (AC) members’ voting on drug approval recommendations. We find little significant evidence that AC members vote in their financial interests. We find stronger evidence that experts’ characteristics such as expertise level or associations with advocacy groups drives voting tendencies (biases) either for or against approval. We show that a Congressional Act that effectively excluded financially-conflicted AC members resulted in a sharp drop in average AC member expertise, and an unintended increase in approval voting. Our results have implications for the popular goal of eliminating financial conflicts from all medical decisions. Eliminating conflicts could sharply reduce the level of expertise of the decision makers and lead to unexpected voting tendencies.