WSJ Examines Call by NIH Director Elias Zerhouni To Revise Agency Conflict-of-Interest Guidelines
The Wall Street Journal on Friday examined a call by NIH Director Elias Zerhouni to revise a provision in new agency conflict-of-interest guidelines that will require NIH employees to divest stock in biomedical companies (Wysocki, Wall Street Journal, 4/8).
At a Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Zerhouni said that the provision will have a "deleterious impact" on recruitment and retention at NIH. He added that the provision has prompted several agency employees to announce their departures.
Under the provision, about 6,000 high-level NIH employees cannot hold stock in biomedical companies, and current stockholders in the group must divest their shares. NIH Deputy Director Raynard Kington recently said that the 1,300 temporary NIH research fellows can continue to hold stock in biomedical companies, although they will have to disclose their financial information to the agency on an annual basis. Kington added that NIH will examine the fellows, who can work at NIH for as long as four years, on "case-by-case analyses" to prevent conflicts of interest. In addition, permanent NIH employees will have an additional six months -- until Oct. 3 -- to divest stock in biomedical companies. The guidelines, announced by Zerhouni on Feb. 1, will become final this month (California Healthline, 4/7).
Several senators, such as Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), agreed with Zerhouni, and Cynthia Dunbar -- a leader for Assembly of Scientists, a group of 15 elected NIH researchers who represent agency workers and oppose the guidelines -- said that the group was "thrilled" by the Zerhouni testimony (Wall Street Journal, 4/8).