NIH Relaxes New Ethics Rules for Temporary Research Fellows
NIH this week announced that it would avoid placing an "undue burden on employees" by exempting temporary agency researchers from a "new and more restrictive conflict-of-interest policy" that would require employees to divest stock holdings in biomedical companies, the Los Angeles Times reports (Willman, Los Angeles Times, 3/17). The new policy, announced by NIH Director Elias Zerhouni on Feb. 1, will restrict the ability of NIH employees to enter outside consulting agreements with pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, health insurers and health care providers.
The guidelines also will mandate that about 6,000 top NIH employees cannot hold stock in pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies and require current stockholders in the group to sell their shares. The revised guidelines will become final in early April after a 60-day comment period (California Healthline, 3/10).
In an internal memo sent this week, NIH Deputy Director Raynard Kington said that the agency's 1,300 temporary research fellows can continue to hold biomedical stocks. He said the fellows still will be required to disclose their financial information to NIH on an annual basis. Kington added that the fellows, who can work at NIH for as long as four years, will be examined on "case-by-case analyses" to prevent conflicts of interest.
In addition, permanent staff will be given an additional six months -- until Oct. 3 -- to divest their biomedical holdings, Kington wrote in the memo. Other agency employees must divest by the same date any holdings that exceed $15,000 in value for a particular company. NIH officials noted they are not planning any changes to the new policy's provision on accepting consulting fees from companies. Kington wrote in his memo, "The goal is to apply the rules necessary to help prevent conflicts of interests and preserve the public's trust in NIH's programs and information, while avoiding unintended consequences of undue burden on employees" (Los Angeles Times, 3/17).