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Policy

NIH Faces More Ethics Questions

June 30, 2008 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 86, ISSUE 26

NIH has again come under scrutiny for potential financial conflicts of interest, but this time the questions involve its extramural grantees. An investigation led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has highlighted cases at Harvard University and Stanford University involving payments from drug companies to NIH-funded clinical researchers that give rise to questions of conflicts of interest. "There's mounting evidence that NIH hasn't done due diligence in keeping track of industry payments to medical researchers," Grassley said. He noted that current law places the responsibility of collecting and managing conflicts on the grantee institution, but it requires NIH to police these efforts. As a result of his investigation, Grassley wants NIH to do more to monitor and ensure conflicts are properly reported and handled by grantee institutions. In a letter to congressional leaders on the House and Senate appropriations committees, Grassley called on his fellow congressmen to "hold NIH accountable until it addresses this issue in a prompt and complete manner." In a letter to Grassley, NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni acknowledged the agency's concern over this issue and said that NIH is undergoing a comprehensive review of its oversight of extramural institutions' financial conflicts of interest. NIH is also considering asking for public input on whether the current process needs to be modified, Zerhouni added.

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