Sponsored supplements are collections of articles, usually on a single topic, and are published as an extra edition or a separate section of a journal, often after a meeting or symposium. A study of 58 highly cited and read medical journals found that the number of supplements published by these journals had increased 4-fold from 1966 to 1989.28 Forty-two percent (262 of 625) of these supplements were single-sponsored (ie, sponsored by 1 pharmaceutical company) and, compared with supplements funded by other types of sponsors, were less likely to have been formally peer reviewed and more likely to have promotional attributes, such as misleading titles, focus on a single-drug topic, and use of brand names only.28 Because of the promotional and biased quality of such industry-sponsored supplements, JAMA and the Archives Journals will not publish them. In addition, the US National Library of Medicine will not index articles in sponsored supplements unless certain disclosure conditions are met.29
However, supplements can serve useful educational purposes, provided that the content is objective, balanced, independent, and scientifically rigorous.9,30 Sponsored supplements also may provide additional revenue to publishers. Recognizing this, the ICMJE developed a set of principles to guide editors when considering the publication of sponsored supplements.2 These principles should help avoid bias in the selection of content for inclusion in industry-sponsored publications2:
1. The journal editor must take full responsibility for the policies, practices, and content of supplements, including complete control of the decision to publish all portions of the supplement. Editing by the funding organization should not be permitted.
2. The journal editor must retain the authority to send supplement manuscripts for external peer review and to reject manuscripts submitted for the supplement. These conditions should be made known to authors and external supplement editors before beginning editorial work on the supplement.
3. The journal editor must approve the appointment of any external editor of the supplement and take responsibility for the work of the external editor.
4. The sources of funding for the research, publication, and the products the funding source make that are considered in the supplement should be clearly stated and prominently located in the supplement, preferably on each page. Whenever possible, funding should come from more than 1 sponsor.
5. Advertising in supplements should follow the same policies as those of the rest of the journal.
6. Journal editors must enable readers to distinguish readily between ordinary editorial pages and supplement pages.
7. Journal editors and supplement editors must not accept personal favors or personal remuneration from sponsors of supplements.
8. Secondary publication in supplements (republication of papers previously published elsewhere) should be clearly identified by the citation of the original paper. Supplements should avoid redundant or duplicate publication. Supplements should not republish research results, but the republication of guidelines or other material in the public interest might be appropriate.
9. The principles of authorship and conflict of interest disclosure should apply to supplements.