An internal review being conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with respect to consulting payments from pharmaceutical companies to scientists employed by the agency has disclosed that such conflicts are both serious and widespread.
Of the sample, more than half (44 of 81) admitted to conduct which violated one or more NIH rules. Of those, 36 are still employed by the agency and were referred for possible disciplinary action.
Nine of those 36 have also been referred to the HHS Office of Inspector general for further investigation. The 8 who left the agency are not subject to administrative action.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee requested the review after comparing NIH records to consulting agreements maintained by 20 pharmaceutical companies.
The Committee found 81 cases between 1999 and 2004 where the agreements were not listed in the NIH records provided to the committee. It also asked NIH to investigate those cases.
Excerpts from the findings of the investigation, provided NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni to three members of Congress included the following statement: “We discovered cases of employees who consulted with research entities without seeking required approval, consulted in areas that appeared to conflict with their official duties, or consulted in situations where the main benefit was the ability of the employer to invoke the name of NIH as an affiliation.”
Although Zerhouni requested the release to Congress to be treated as confidential, Committee leaders released it as a matter of compelling public interest.