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April 03, 2005

NIH Rule Controversy Continues

A Washington Post story describes how strict new conflict-of-interest rules at the National Institutes of Health "have roiled the NIH internally and prompted a backlash in the broader science and business communities," leading to some high profile departures.

Here's an excerpt from the April 2 Post story:    

Yesterday, in a memo e-mailed to employees, a group of senior agency scientists detailed a legal opinion they recently received that made clear just how broad the new rules are.

"Basically this means anything NIHers do outside -- whether getting paid for it or not, from singing in a jazz group to selling art or jewelry, from volunteering at charity organizations to membership in a school or community organization to developing their own small business completely unrelated to biomedical science -- requires prior NIH approval," the memo says. "We find this very disturbing. It is intrusive and scary. It suggests the NIH owns our lives away from work."    

The backlash has moved beyond the agency's Bethesda campus. A renowned Duke University physician has postponed accepting a job running the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Scientific organizations have protested to government officials, and biotech companies have complained about the loss of NIH scientists from advisory boards and consulting deals.

"For a small company like us, it's a huge blow," said Ginette Serrero, chief executive of Columbia biotech start-up A&G Pharmaceutical Inc. The rules forced a senior NIH cancer researcher to remove himself from the firm's scientific advisory board.

"Having someone from the NIH on your board is a tremendous value, for advice, and because it gives you a lot of credibility" with investors, Serrero said.

Posted by IEC Team Leader in Issues: Conflicts of Interest | Permalink


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