Thursday, September 14, 2006

The NIH: "An Ethical Potemkin Village"

We have posted quite a bit about the ongoing story of conflicts of interests affecting some of the top leaders and researchers at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Most recently, we commented on the generally lenient treatment the NIH gave to researchers with such conflicts of interest.

The Los Angeles Times reported on a congressional hearing about the issue, which produced some notable quotes:

This is the largest scandal in all of the NIH's existence - Rep. Edward Whitfield (R-Kentucky) to NIH Deputy Director Raynard S Kington

We certainly hope it will be the last - Kington's reply

This is really an ethical Potemkin village, where a hollow system appears to provide the illusion of integrity, but transgressors never leave - Rep. Joe L Barton (R- Texas)

You're sittin' on your bottom, and you're not doing anything about it. It's a farce - Rep Barton to John O Agwunobi, Assistant Secretary for Health

I believe that the tentacles of the drug companies influence the research at NIH, much to the consternation of the American people - Rep. Bart Stupak (D- Michigan)

It does seem there really is some outrage here. There should be. One of the world's foremost, and formerly most respected research institutions has been badly tarnished. Those entrusted with its management need to do some rigorous polishing.

Until the situation is cleaned up, what lessons do researchers in the trenches learn from this: that you are a success when you get fat consulting fees from the drug, device, or bio-tech company whose products you are investigating? What lessons do practicing doctors learn from this: that when even the august NIH researchers really work for such companies, whose research can you trust as independent?

1 comment:

Paul Parry said...

While I'm worried about this problem, I'm more worried about the potential solutions Congress could have for it. The last think we want is to have our NIH researchers secluded away in a silo, protected from any involvement in or knowledge of private sector research. That would be worse than the current situation, and I'm afraid this debate could lead to such an overreaction.