Acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford Launches Internal Investigation Into Consulting Payments
Acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford earlier this month launched an internal investigation to determine the extent of pharmaceutical and biotechnology company payments to agency officials, the Los Angeles Times reports. Crawford launched the investigation as the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations this month began to examine similar payments to NIH officials (Willman, Los Angeles Times, 5/18). The subcommittee launched the investigation in response to a Los Angeles Times article published in December that found evidence of hundreds of consulting payments -- often were hidden from the public -- to a number of NIH officials. In January, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education that the NIH Blue Ribbon Committee on Conflict of Interest Policies would investigate allegations of conflicts of interest among agency employees who received consulting payments and stock options from pharmaceutical companies (California Healthline, 1/23). The NIH investigation found that Lance Liotta, chief of the pathology laboratory at the National Cancer Institute, and Emanuel Petricoin, a senior microbiologist at FDA, received consulting payments from California-based Biospect, which on Monday became Predicant Biosciences. In late 2002, NIH and FDA allowed Liotta and Petricoin to enter into paid consulting agreements with Biospect, although in April 2002, the agencies had assigned them to help Maryland-based Correlogic Systems develop an ovarian cancer test. Biospect and Correlogic are potential competitors, according to documents and individuals familiar with the situation, the Times reports. NIH records indicate that through 2003, Liotta received $39,000 from Biospect; the amount that Petricoin received was not publicly available on Monday, the Times reports. The agreements that Liotta and Petricoin had with Biospect were terminated in the past few days, according to the Times.
Zerhouni said through spokesperson John Burklow that he would not support the agreement Liotta had with Biospect and that the issue "demonstrates the need for systemic reform" at NIH. According to NIH documents, agency ethics officials as of last year had concluded that "Liotta's outside consulting work with Biospect was unrelated to the official work he was assigned to perform" with Correlogic, the Times reports. FDA spokesperson Lawrence Bachorik said that agency officials "subsequently determined that Biospect participates in activities that are significantly regulated by the FDA. As a result, consulting with Biospect is a prohibited outside activity." The agreement that Petricoin had with Biospect prompted FDA officials to investigate "whether other employees could maintain similar arrangements with the industry they help regulate," the Times reports. "In light of recent questions about possible conflicts of interest" at HHS agencies, Crawford has "directed a comprehensive review of all current outside activity requests from all FDA employees," Bachorik said (Los Angeles Times, 5/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.