Two Lawmakers Ask NIH Director Elias Zerhouni To Revise Agency Conflict-of-Interest Guidelines
Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) late last week urged NIH Director Elias Zerhouni to delay for 90 days the implementation of new rules intended to minimize conflicts of interest among NIH employees, the Washington Post reports (Weiss, Washington Post, 4/17).
Under the rules, NIH employees will be barred from entering 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.
Zerhouni on Wednesday at a Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee hearing said that he will seek to alter the rules because it is "very clear" that the provision requiring employees to divest health-related stock could have a "deleterious impact" on NIH (California Healthline, 4/7).
The regulations on stock ownership were delayed in early April for 90 days by HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and currently are set to take effect on July 3. In their letter to Zerhouni, Davis and Von Hollen wrote, "Our concern centers around the likelihood that the regulations in their current form will seriously erode the ability to recruit and retain scientists and medical professionals." Zerhouni on Saturday said that Leavitt has been "very responsive and is very concerned that we end up with a fair and balanced rule that protects the public trust while not creating an undue burden on our employees."
Meanwhile, another NIH scientist has announced that he will resign in part because of the new rules. Arthur Atkinson, a clinical pharmacologist, advises the director of NIH's new $635 million clinical research center. The new rules have contributed to his decision to retire, sources say, according to the Post (Washington Post, 4/17).