NIH SCIENTIST SUNDERLAND PLEADS GUILTY TO CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST CHARGE
Trey Sunderland, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), pleaded guilty to participating in a conflict of interest by accepting $285,000 in consulting fees from Pfizer.
Sunderland, chief of the NIMH's geriatric psychiatry branch, failed to get NIH approval for the consulting work related to two of his research projects, and did not disclose the payments to NIH officials, U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said Dec. 8. Sunderland filed his guilty plea in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Rosenstein added that Sunderland "violated the fundamental rule that government employees cannot accept payment from interested parties without the permission of their supervisors." Federal prosecutors filed charges against Sunderland last week.
According to the statement of facts presented to the court as part of his plea agreement, Sunderland was required to disclose all income earned from outside activities and outside employment arrangements, including consultant positions with businesses, as well as travel expenses totaling more than $260.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland Press Blog announced details of the case. In 1998, Sunderland agreed to a scientific collaboration between Pfizer, the NIMH and British company Oxford Glycosciences to research new biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease. Under the collaboration, which lasted until 2003, Pfizer received approximately 800 samples of spinal fluid, blood serum and other clinical data collected from NIMH subjects, the announcement said.
At the same time, Sunderland and Pfizer were finalizing the scientific collaboration, according to the announcement. Sunderland began negotiations to be paid as a consultant working on the same project. On June 10, 1998, Sunderland signed the consultation agreement.
Over the five-year consultancy period, Pfizer paid Sunderland $125,000 in retainer fees, $35,000 for attending 14 meetings at Pfizer locations and related travel expenses, the blog said.