Baltimore Sun Examines Management of NIH Conflict-of-Interest Rules by Agency Director Elias Zerhouni
The Baltimore Sun on Monday featured NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, focusing on his role in implementing new rules to prevent conflicts-of-interest among researchers (Baer, Baltimore Sun, 5/2).
Under the rules, NIH employees cannot engage in outside consulting agreements with pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, health insurers and health care providers. The rules also mandate that about 6,000 high-level NIH employees cannot hold stock in pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies and require current stockholders to sell their shares. Those opposed to the rules say they will place a financial burden on NIH employees and affect the ability of the agency to recruit and retain researchers (California Healthline, 4/27).
The rules have put Zerhouni in a "familiar position: at the center of a dispute where he is at once criticized by those who believe that he too easily bows to outside pressures and applauded by those who say that he deftly blends the political demands of his job and the interests of science." The rules are "only the latest in a string of controversies" that Zerhouni has confronted since becoming director, the Sun reports.
Other issues include:
- President Bush's policy of limiting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research;
- The agency's stoppage of a large-scale study of hormone-replacement therapy in menopausal women;
- Criticism and subsequent congressional inquiry into a series of NIH grants that funded research relating to sexual behavior and AIDS; and
- Budget constraints limiting research the agency can fund.
He added, "I knew where I wanted to be. [NIH] is not Arthur Andersen or Enron, and I will stand up to prevent NIH from being destroyed by people who feel that it's OK to be loose with the rules. On the other hand, I'm not going to have a rule with no reason that prevents NIH from recruiting and retaining the best people. That's the balance, and in the end, I'll get there." Zerhouni is scheduled to testify Tuesday before a House committee (Baltimore Sun, 5/2). 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.