NIH Tightens Ethics Rules for All Employees

Article excerpt

Officials at the National Institutes of Health are tightening restrictions on outside consulting arrangements with industry after more than a year of investigations turned up potential conflicts of interest.

"Nothing is more important to me than preserving the trust of the public in NIH," Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., NIH director, said in a statement announcing the new ethics rules. "It is unfortunate that the activities of a few employees have tainted the stellar reputation of the many thousands of NIH scientists who have never compromised their integrity and have selflessly served the nation with great distinction through their discoveries."

The new policy bars all NIH employees from engaging in compensated or uncompensated employment or consulting relationships with those organizations that are substantially affected by NIH decisions. Such organizations include pharmaceutical manufacturers, biotechnology companies, support research institutions, health care providers and insurers, and related trade and professional associations.

The policy also prohibits NIH employees from participating in compensated teaching, speaking, writing, or editing with these affected organizations.

Further, NIH employees are prohibited from self-employment activities that involve the sale or promotion of services or products from these organizations.

However, employees are allowed to teach courses that require multiple presentations and are part of an established curriculum at a university or college. They can also teach, speak, or write as part of a continuing education program. However, if the funding for the program comes from a substantially affected organization, like a drug company, it must be funded by an unrestricted grant.

NIH employees can also author articles, chapters, and textbooks that are subject to peer review provided that funding from affected organizations is in the form of unrestricted contributions.

Under the new policy, NIH employees are also allowed to continue clinical care to individual patients.

The new regulation also takes aim at stock ownership. NIH employees who are required to file financial disclosure statements are prohibited from acquiring or holding financial interests in affected organizations including biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies. …