Group of NIH Scientists Hires Law Firm To Challenge New Agency Conflict-of-Interest Rules
The Assembly of Scientists, a group of 15 elected NIH researchers who represent agency employees and oppose new agency conflict-of-interest rules, have hired a law and lobbying firm to launch a "legal and government relations campaign" to challenge the rules, the Los Angeles Times reports (Willman, Los Angeles Times, 4/21).
Under the rules, NIH employees cannot enter 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 in the group to sell their shares (California Healthline, 4/18).
The Assembly of Scientists maintains that the rules will place "unfair financial burdens" on NIH employees and affect the ability of the agency to recruit and retain researchers. The Assembly of Scientists has asked NIH Director Elias Zerhouni to eliminate a provision in the rules related to stock ownership and allow most agency researchers to enter outside consulting agreements (Los Angeles Times, 4/21).
Zerhouni last week at a Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing said that he will seek to revise the rules. In early April, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt delayed for 90 days until July 3 the provision in the rules related to stock ownership (California Healthline, 4/18).
The decision by the Assembly of Scientists to hire Arent Fox has "added firepower" to the effort to challenge the rules, the Times reports. Arent Fox represents pharmaceutical, medical device and dietary supplement companies, as well as the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which last year asked NIH to allow agency researchers to continue to enter consulting agreements with biotech companies.
Arent Fox will provide the Assembly of Scientists with legal and lobbying services at a discount, according to firm Chair Marc Fleischaker. He added that none of the companies represented by Arent Fox has paid for services on behalf of the Assembly of Scientists.
Arent Fox attorneys earlier this month filed a petition in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that seeks to review the rules, based on the argument that agency researchers were not allowed to comment on them. According to Fleischaker, Arent Fox seeks "a more reasonable conflict-of-interest standard, which will not result in the loss of current scientists or the inability to recruit future scientists." He added, "We hope to do that through discussions and conversations. ... And if we have to litigate, we will" (Los Angeles Times, 4/21).