Sunday, April 24, 2005

NIH Dissidents Keep Fighting Conflict of Interest Rules

The LA Times reported that over at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the dissident Assembly of Scientists is ramping up its fight to preserve the ability of NIH physicians, scientists, and leaders to personally hold pharmaceutical and biotechnology stocks, and to take fees in addition to their salaries to consult for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
The Assembly has hired the firm of Arent Fox PLLC as its representative. The LA Times article alleged that Arent Fox also has represented makers of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and dietary supplements, and one of its clients is the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Apparently, the Assembly of Scientists is getting these services at a discount, for reasons that are unclear. Furthermore, it turns out that Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who asked NIH Director Zerhouni to delay implementation of more stringent conflict of interest rules, is a former partner in Arent Fox.
My comment is that the more that top NIH scientists and leaders seem focused on keeping their lucrative outside consulting work for biotechnology and pharmaceutical corporations, the more doubts will be raised about where their true loyalties lie. Are they first loyal public servants, or industry consultants? If the latter, are their writings and actions primarily meant to advance science, or advance the commercial interests of their consulting clients?

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