Original reporting by DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. “Review Finds Scientists With Ties to Companies.” Published in The New York Times: July 15, 2005.
Following disclosures that some government researchers were paid thousands of dollars by drug makers, in February NIH agency director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni banned all consulting deals between agency researchers and drug or biotechnology companies. For the agency’s top scientists, he also forbade owning shares in such companies, accepting gifts worth more than $200 and accepting many research prizes. The rules are not final because Dr. Zerhouni has been concerned that the NIH could lose scientists for not allowing them to profit by drug connections. House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders are urging him to make the rules final.
Since the ban, the government-paid scientists’ conduct has been investigated. Forty-four government scientists have violated ethics rules on collaborating with pharmaceutical companies, a preliminary review by the National Institutes of Health shows. The institutes’ review found that the 44 scientists had either failed to disclose income from outside work, had failed to get permission to consult or had done the work on government time rather than their own.
Nine of the scientists may have violated criminal laws, the report said. The review did not describe what criminal laws might have been violated in the nine cases that were turned over to the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. No researchers were named.
The review was outlined in a July 8 letter Dr. Zerhouni sent to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating conflicts of interest by government researchers. Because the NIH is investigating 103 people who have been accused of ethics violations, Dr. Zerhouni had asked the committee to keep his letter confidential. But the Committee’s leaders – Representatives Joe L. Barton, Republican of Texas and John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan – said in a statement yesterday that they were releasing it because of “the compelling public interest.”
“The ethical problems are more systemic and severe than previously known,” Mr. Barton said.