NIH Proposes Tougher Conflict of Interest Rules

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Internal and external reviews have led Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, to recommend deep changes in his agency's conflict of interest policies.

"It is imperative that Congress and the American people trust that the decisions made by our scientists are motivated solely by public health priorities and scientific opportunities, not personal financial concerns," Dr. Zerhouni said in written testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

Dr. Zerhouni said that he will work with Department of Health and Human Services officials in the Office of the Secretary and the Office of Government Ethics to enact more restrictive rules and increase the public availability of information on outside activities with industry.

The NIH has been under fire since last year for potential conflicts of interest among its scientists for receiving consulting fees and stock options from pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. In response, Dr. Zerhouni formed a blue-ribbon panel in January to evaluate the existing conflict of interest policies at the NIH and to propose new policies.

In May, he recommended changes to the agency's ethics policies, largely based on the panel's findings. Among his recommendations was prohibiting all NIH employees from receiving stock and stock options as compensation for health care research and consulting.

Since then, Dr. Zerhouni has toughened his stance, and in June he proposed prohibiting all NIH employees from holding stock in individual biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, a restriction modeled after rules in place at the Food and Drug Administration.

The NIH also proposes to crack down on the receipt of honoraria associated with scientific awards by employees. Officials plan to prescreen awards and to prohibit employees from accepting awards that have not been preapproved. …