Wednesday, December 22, 2004

More Outrageous Conflicts of Interest at the NIH

A year after their landmark series of articles on conflicts of interest affecting top leaders of the NIH, the diligent investigative reporters at the Los Angeles Times have produced a new series about conflicts of interest affecting senior scientists at the NIH.
What they found was as outrageous as what they reported last year.
They found that senior NIH scientists were collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees and stock from industry. Some of these researchers never reported what they received. Some were involved in research directly relevant to products marketed by the companies who paid them. Some publicly praised the companies products in their capacity as NIH scientists, without mentioning their ties to the companies.
For example, the Times reported three cases.
Dr. P. Trey Sunderland III received more than $500,000 from Pfizer. He did not report any of this income to the NIH. He was running an NIH study of Alzheimer's disease with which Pfizer collaborated. He publicly endorsed Aricept, made by Pfizer, during a presentation at the NIH, without mentioning his ties to the company.
Dr. Lance A Liotta and Dr. Emanuel F. Petricoin III became paid consultants for Biospect Inc, abiotechnology company working on diagnostic technology. Liotta received about $70,000 from Biospect. Both had previously worked on a project to develop better blood tests for ovarian cancer with Correlogic, a competitor of Biospect. Correlogic tried to set up a cooperative research agreement with the NIH, but after Liotta and Petricoin began consulting for its competitor, found its progress blocked by one bureaucratic obstacle after another.
Dr. Harvey G. Klein received about $240,000 in fees plus stock options from five companies in the blood products field. One was Haemonetics, which makes leukocyte filters for blood transfusion. Klein got $60,000 from Haemonetics, plus stock options from 1999 to 2003. Klein publicly backed universal leukocyte filtering of transfused blood in his capacity with the NIH, without mentioning his conflict of interest. Klein also received money from two companies that made red blood cell substitutes. He publicly endorsed such substitutes at an NIH conference, and in a New England Journal article in his capacity with the NIH, without, again, mentioning any conflicts of interest.
These conflicts of interest are particularly outrageous because:
The NIH is obviously extremely influential in medical research, and the actions of its leaders and top scientists clearly influence medical practice.
The NIH used to have such a pristine reputation, and still has rigorous requirements for its small-fry to report conflicts of interest. (For example, I have served on NIH study sections, and am required to disclose even the smallest conflict of interest that could affect my grant reviews, and am barred from reviewing any grant for which I have the slightest conflict of interest).
As mentioned in this series, and the previous series, the NIH apparently tried to cover up the changes in its policy in the mid-1990's that allowed researchers and top officials to collect large amounts of money as consulting.
And finally, the amounts of money involved are so substantial...
Have they no shame?

1 comment:

Egan Allen said...

If these so-called scientists are really pure and unswayable, as I am sure they think themselves to be, that would make the drug companies that pay them chumps. Just what does one think that the drug companies are paying for?

The Deputy Director of the NIH put out a statement today that aimed to do damage control. Researchers will now have to complete financial disclosure documents. How pathetic! Just what ethical midden to do these sundry characters derive their principles from? Do these scientists, supposed bastions of truth, in the highest tower of inquiry in the leading academic country in the world not know what is right and what is wrong? Do these learned men (I didn't see any female names listed) need to be treated like school children and sign statements that they won't cheat? Is there any institution left that holds itself to any principles beyond greed?

Judge not words; judge actions. The statements being made by "officials" are just expected reactions to being exposed. Just as in other parts of the federal government talk is cheap and often serves to ride through the press cycle. Let's see some action; those of the sort that indicate true intent of doing the right thing. Fire some or all of these scoundrels!