NIH Conflict-of-Interest Guidelines Proposed
Statement of CSPI Integrity in Science Project Director Merrill Goozner
May 6, 2004
The new guidelines unfortunately include huge new loopholes for agency scientists, which, if widely used, will put in jeopardy NIH’s mission of looking for the causes and cures for disease. The guidelines’ ban on senior management employees accepting outside consulting relationships with pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms, which has already been put in place, is a minimal first step that was long overdue. But today's recommendation that the 5,000 scientists conducting research at NIH be allowed to earn up to 50 percent of their salary in outside consulting with pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms will inevitably lead to conflicts of commitment for many senior scientists.
Over time, these paid consulting relationships will restrict access to these scientists, whose knowledge has been generated at public expense, to a narrow band of companies who can afford to pay for their services. In choosing whom to work with, the scientists will in effect be picking winners and losers based on ability to pay.
The guidelines also fail to call for disclosure of NIH scientists’ outside financial arrangements with private companies. It is critical that publicly-funded scientists, including the university-based scientists who receive about 80 percent of NIH grants, disclose their relationships with private firms such as patents, honoraria and consulting contracts. Taxpayers have a right to know when grant applicants have a financial self-interest in their government-funded research.