Lawmakers Request Fee Information for NIH Employees From Drug Companies
Reps. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Thursday sent a letter to 10 pharmaceutical companies that requests by March 11 information on consulting fees and stock options paid to NIH scientists, the Los Angeles Times reports. The letter -- sent to Abbott Laboratories, Allergan, Amgen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, Schering-Plough and Wyeth -- is part of a larger investigation into potential conflicts of interest at NIH, according to the Times. Brown and Waxman said that the letter and the investigation are a response to a Times report on payments from pharmaceutical companies to NIH scientists (Willman, Los Angeles Times, 2/27).
The December report found evidence of hundreds of consulting payments to various NIH officials. Such payments are often hidden from public view because a 1998 legal opinion from the Office of Government Ethics allows more than 94% of NIH's top-paid employees to keep their consulting income confidential. In December, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni acknowledged concerns about consulting agreements between drug companies and agency employees and ordered a review of consulting fees paid to NIH scientists. Zerhouni told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education in late January that a panel chaired by two highly respected scientists from the public and private sectors would investigate allegations of conflict of interest among NIH employees who received consulting fees and stock options from drug companies. On Jan. 16, Brown, Waxman and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) asked the General Accounting Office to investigate NIH scientists' collaborations with drug companies. In addition, Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.), chair of the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, wrote a letter Wednesday to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, asking him to force disclosure of the dollar amounts in consulting fees that NIH scientists have received from drug companies. Greenwood wrote that despite a request on behalf of the House Energy and Commerce Committee made two months ago, "To date, the Committee has not yet received dollar amounts for any of the consulting arrangements" (California Healthline, 2/26).
The letter asks the pharmaceutical companies to provide information related to:
- Stock options, consulting fees or other financial arrangements with NIH scientists;
- Cooperative research agreements, grants and contracts with NIH scientists, the value and nature of such arrangements and the name of the NIH official who awards them;
- Patents that the companies received for products developed in consultation with NIH scientists and details of the contributions made by scientists; and
- Descriptions of their policies to prevent conflicts of interest related to financial arrangements with NIH scientists.