NIH Ethics Office Requires Some Officials To Disclose Outside Incomes To Address Conflict-of-Interest Concerns
Many director-level NIH scientists will now be required to publicly disclose any income from outside sources, attorneys from the Office of Government Ethics announced on Monday at the first meeting of a newly formed NIH panel that will evaluate conflict of interest policies, the Los Angeles Times reports. The new disclosure requirements, effective as of Feb. 6, will immediately affect 66 senior NIH officials (Willman, Los Angeles Times, 3/2). The announcement follows a Times report in December that found evidence of hundreds of consulting payments -- often hidden from public view -- to various NIH officials. In January, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education that the panel, chaired by two scientists from the public and private sectors, would investigate allegations of conflicts of interest among NIH employees who received consulting fees and stock options from drug companies (California Healthline, 2/27). Edgar M. Swindell, HHS associate general counsel, also announced during Monday's panel meeting that the HHS Office of Inspector General has begun an examination of NIH's conflict of interest policies. Zerhouni told the panel that he intended to "leave no stone unturned" in strengthening NIH's ethics policies but discouraged a "one-size-fits-all" remedy. While "the public has the right to see whether its resources are directed for private gain," Zerhouni said he did not want to jeopardize arrangements that help develop ideas into medical treatments, the Times reports. He asked the panel to submit its recommendations by early May. The panel is co-chaired by Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Norman Augustine, formerly of Lockheed Martin. All members of the panel were appointed by Zerhouni.
Reps. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) last week sent a letter to 10 pharmaceutical companies that requests by March 11 information on consulting fees and stock options paid to NIH scientists dating back to 1995 (Los Angeles Times, 3/2). Brown, Waxman and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) also have asked the General Accounting Office to investigate NIH scientists' collaborations with drug companies. In addition, House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) wrote a letter last week 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, 2/27).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.