- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2005


The National Institutes of Health banned its scientists from working as consultants for pharmaceutical, biotechnology and similar businesses, a step officials hope will end concern over paid consulting arrangements by some of its doctors.

“Nothing is more important for NIH than preserving the public’s trust,” NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni said yesterday.

The new rules also will prohibit scientists from holding stock in such companies and will restrict the amount of stock that other NIH employees can own in pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

The ban on outside work by NIH scientists covers research institutions, including those that receive grants from the NIH, health care providers, insurers and related trade associations.

The scientists will be allowed, however, to teach courses and give lectures related to their work, as well as write articles and textbooks.

“Clearly, we do not want to impair scientific interchange,” Dr. Zerhouni said.

He also said the institute last month established rules requiring researchers who receive royalties from experimental treatments they helped develop to disclose those royalties to patients.

Such disclosure “is a clear necessity,” Dr. Zerhouni said. Cases of NIH scientists failing to disclose such royalties were first reported by the Associated Press.

The rules will take effect when they are published, probably within a day or two. They also will include a $200 limit on awards that NIH researchers can accept, with a few exceptions, such as the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Zerhouni said NIH also will begin evaluating any potential conflicts of interest with members of its outside advisory panels.

He described early reaction to the new rules from NIH staff as “mixed.”

However, the action drew praise from Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, who has been critical of NIH policies allowing its scientists to take consulting jobs.

“NIH’s previous ethics requirements were unworkable — not at all what the public deserves from our nation’s premier research institution,” Mrs. DeGette said.

In September, NIH proposed to ban outside consulting work by its roughly 5,000 scientists in the wake of press reports that some researchers received thousands of dollars from industry. That proposal was intended to give the agency time to develop new ethics regulations.

It doesn’t affect scientists’ official duties in turning basic research into health treatments, duties that often involve some work with industry.

Rather, the restrictions focused on a fraction of agency scientists — about 120 by one count — who have arranged private consulting deals with industry. In one case uncovered by Congress, Pfizer Inc. purportedly paid an NIH researcher $500,000 over five years, in part to help the company’s research on brain disease.

In May, Dr. Zerhouni told Congress that the agency needed to tighten its rules, but said some collaboration with industry and academia is vital to advance science and to translate discoveries into medical practice.

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