Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Few Echoes From Allegations of NIH "Appearance of Corruption"

The recent stories from the Los Angeles Times about severe conflicts of interests affecting senior National Institutes of Health (NIH) staff, and an accompanying editorial charging "the appearance of corruption," continue to be curiously anechoic.
The Senior Science and Technology Editor of United Press International, Dee Ann Divis, did just summarize how "public faith in the science advice provided by the federal government took several hard hits in 2004, as politics and circumstance converged to undermine further the general credibility of science policy and federal researchers." She cited scientists' complaints about Bush administration influence on federal researchers and science policy, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) "poor handling" of reports of adverse effects of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressants for children, and its "lax approach" to reports of adverse effects of Cox-2 inhibitors. She thought that the responsibility for these latter problems could be spread around to Congress for its decision to partially fund the FDA with user fees paid by pharmaceutical companies. However, she wrote, "this is not an excuse available to the National Institutes of Health, however, where there appears to be significant financial conflicts of interest among some of the researchers."
Meanwhile, the Director of the NIH, Elias Zerhouni, responded to the LA Times articles, by touting the "stringent rules" that "we are enacting." What was most significant, however, was what his letter did not say. He did not make clear whether these rules are already in effect, and if not, when they will be. Likewise, he called for "a total ban on all outside activities with industry for a full year," but did not mention whether such a ban would actually be put in place. Zerhouni had previously resisted any blanket restriction on consulting, and the last report I could find on the proposed ban left its enactment in doubt, dependent on approval by (now outgoing) Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, and the Office of Government Ethics.
Of course, we are between Holidays, but this does not seem like an appropriate response to the magnitude of the problems reported by the LA Times. The anechoic effect continues?

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