HHS to Reinvestigate NIH Conflict-of-Interest Cases
After pressure from Congress, federal investigators will reopen 103 cases of potential conflicts of interest among NIH employees, according to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson.
The Office of Inspector General and the Special Investigations Unit at HHS are changing how they review ethics cases at the NIH, Levinson wrote in a letter to Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The need to reopen the cases shows that HHS did not adequately investigate them, Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) said. "Even if only a few of these cases result in criminal prosecution, it is clear that the NIH bungled the investigation the first time around," he added.
In 2003, the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations found the NIH had failed to provide it with information disclosing that 81 NIH scientists had contracts with drug companies. The NIH discovered 22 cases of potential conflicts of interest later.
The House subcommittee found the violations through documents showing more than $1 million in payments from pharmaceutical companies to NIH employees, subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) said. None of the employees informed the NIH that they had received payments from drug companies.
In July 2005, the NIH reported that 37 of those scientists were "cleared," and 44 had violated at least one of the NIH's regulations. However, only one of those cases moved to criminal prosecution.
Trey Sunderland, a senior scientist at the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health, pleaded guilty late last year to having a conflict of interest by accepting $285,000 in consulting fees from Pfizer. A judge from the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland sentenced Sunderland to a fine of $300,000 and 400 hours of community service.
The 103 cases involved scientists hired by drug companies between 1999 and 2004, a House committee press report said. In 2005, the NIH instituted a new policy banning employees from receiving consulting fees or stock options from drug companies to reduce potential conflicts of interest.
( http://www.fdanews.com/did/6_65/ )