Industry-funded clinical trials are set up more quickly than those financed by medical research charities, research councils and the European Union, according to data provided to Times Higher Education.
The data, from the National Institute for Health Research, reveal that a smaller proportion of non-commercial trials are approved or recruit their first patients within target times than those with commercial backers.
This may mean that public and charitable research funding is not going as far as it could – as trials that take longer require more funding.
The discrepancy could be down to a lack of commercial drivers for academic research in the health system, and the fact that industry tends to fund trials that are more straightforward to set up.
The data, for the 2014-15 financial year to date, suggest that 82 per cent of non-commercial clinical trials are approved within 40 days, compared with 88 per cent of industry-funded trials.
In previous years, the proportion of non-commercial trials that meet the target has been slightly higher than that for commercial ones.
The proportion of studies approved within the target time frame varies significantly across the country. In the North Thames region, covering parts of North and East London, plus Hertfordshire and Essex, 51 per cent of non-commercial trials are approved within 40 days, compared with 100 per cent of commercial ones.
Once approved, 58 per cent of industry-backed trials recruited their first patient within 30 days in 2013-14, compared with 36 per cent for non-commercial trials that are managed by clinical trials units, and 45 per cent for non-commercial trials that are not managed in this way.
Lydia Christopher, head of industry operations of the Clinical Research Network of the NIHR, said that industry studies tend to be quicker to set up because of commercial drivers. “Commercial companies have entire teams dedicated to setting up and delivering research who are very highly skilled and they are doing this day in, day out,” she said.
Academic researchers are aiming for publication rather than market authorisation, she continued.
Ms Christopher added that the Clinical Research Network is working with academics to help speed up their work.
Allan Hackshaw, deputy director of the Cancer Research UK and University College London Cancer Trials Centre, said: “The whole process from beginning to end takes an extraordinary length of time.”
He said that some non-commercial research involves rare diseases, which could result in delays in finding suitable patients, but added that this would account for only a few trials.
Emma Greenwood, head of policy development at Cancer Research UK, said that non-commercial trials might take longer to set up because study designs, particularly in cancer, are becoming increasingly complex.
Investigators may be “really specific” about the types of patient that they need for a trial, which can mean going to several sites in the UK or even Europe. “So for a non-commercial study that doesn’t have the same amount of resources behind it, you can anticipate that [that] can take more time,” she added.