Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

NIH Examines Conflict of Interest Policy

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

NIH Examines Conflict of Interest Policy

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- A blue-ribbon panel will spend the next few months examining how the National Institutes of Health oversees the outside consulting activities of its scientists.

Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the NIH director, formed the panel in January in response to press reports that some NIH scientists are receiving consulting fees and stock options from pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, creating possible conflicts of interest.

Dr. Zerhouni gave the panel--to be cochaired by Bruce Alberts, Ph.D., president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Norman R. Augustine, chairman of the executive committee of Lockheed Martin--90 days to make recommendations.

"Our mission is too important to have it undermined by any real or perceived conflicts of interest," Dr. Zerhouni said at a hearing called by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, HHS, and education.

Dr. Zerhouni previously had formed an ethics advisory committee within NIH to examine outside relationships and to advise on how to improve internal policy.

"My first and foremost concern was to ascertain whether any patient had been harmed or if decisions had been unduly influenced as a result of such outside relationships," Dr. Zerhouni testified. "Thus far, we have not identified any situations where patients were harmed as the result of financial arrangements NIH employees had with outside parties. Nor have we identified any situations where outside activities resulted in undue influence on grant approvals or other decisions."

Dr. Zerhouni asked the Office of Government Ethics to give NIH a temporary waiver so that the agency could make additional public disclosures of all outside activities by NIH employees with fiduciary responsibilities.

There are currently about 365 active agreements between NIH scientists and outside companies, Dr. Zerhouni told the committee.

He added that most of the arrangements involve strictly financial compensation, not stock ownership. …

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