Conflicts of Interest at the NIH: No Easy Solution
Resnik, David B., The Hastings Center Report
Editor's Note: On February 2, 2005, the National Institutes of Health changed course on conflicts of interest and prohibited its scientists from owning stock in or working as consultants with pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies. The following essay, sent to press before the new policy was announced, recommends a very different approach. The author stands by the recommendations.
A controversy over conflicts of interest in the intramural research program at the National Institute of Health erupted in December 2003 when the Los Angeles Times published several articles on consulting arrangements between administrators and senior scientists at the NIH and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. (1) The intramural program consists of scientists, postdoctoral students, fellows, and research staff hired by the NIH to conduct basic and applied research, as opposed to the extramural program of research grants and contracts awarded to other institutions. The articles alleged that some officials received hundreds of thousands of dollars from consulting deals that apparently did not violate any of the NIH's ethics rules pertaining to outside activities. Two of the NIH'S directors allegedly received fees or stock options worth several hundred thousand dollars. Most of the officials who had these arrangements did not make any public disclosures. The relationships were possible because Zerhouni's predecessor, Harold Varmus, had loosened the NIH's ethics rules in 1995 to encourage intramural researchers to consult with industry and to recruit and retain top biomedical scientists.
In response to the allegations, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni appointed a blue-ribbon panel to examine the charges and make recommendations for changes in NIH policies. Two Congressional subcommittees also held hearings. In May 2004, the NIH panel issued a report that called for tighter controls on relationships with industry. In July, Zerhouni proposed rules stricter than those that the panel had recommended. According to the proposed changes: no NIH staff may serve on corporate boards or as paid consultants for grantee institutions; consulting fees may not exceed 25 percent of an employee's annual salary (limits on salaries for clinicians are set by market rates); employees who are required to file financial reports are not allowed to own any stock in pharmaceutical or biotechnology …
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Publication information: Article title: Conflicts of Interest at the NIH: No Easy Solution. Contributors: Resnik, David B. - Author. Journal title: The Hastings Center Report. Volume: 35. Issue: 1 Publication date: January-February 2005. Page number: 18+. © 1999 Hastings Center. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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