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It Could Happen Here

Dec
22
2004

Today’s LATImes has a long piece investigating the financial ties – stock grants, speaking fees – between scientists and researchers at the National Institute of Health and the pharmaceutical industry.
It’s not that much of a stretch to say that this piece is a good, if somewhat limited, example of the sort of deals and arrangements that are likely to arise as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine takes shape, establishes itself and truly becomes what promoters have promised: A mini-NIH.


Now, cutting researchers off completely from the people who implement their ideas is a tough call.
As leader of the NIH, [Director Elias] Zerhouni has acknowledged that some past deals have been improper. But he has also argued for allowing most agency scientists to consult privately for industry. Close government-industry cooperation, he says, can help bring important products to market. He has also said that the supplemental income from industry fees can help the NIH retain talented scientists.
Others disagree. Dr. Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, said in an interview that doctors and patients counted on NIH scientists for “their critical, scientific, dispassionate judgment.”
“When they have financial ties to the companies that make the products that they’re supposed to be impartial about, we can’t assume that,” Angell said.

Angell points out why financial disclosure by members of the committee set up to review the work done by the institute created by the $3 billion in state-backed bonds is so important. NIH has Congress for oversight. The Regenerative Medicine institute is overseen by a state legislature that can’t really change anything about how it conducts its business.
And don’t get all high and mighty about corrupt Republicans, either. Here’s the Times again:
When he was appointed by President Bush in March 2002, [NIH Director Elias] Zerhouni inherited an agency whose scientists were avidly pursuing private consulting.
Although historically separate from industry, the NIH by the late 1980s was allowing some limited outside arrangements. In November 1995, the consulting gate was swung wide open by then-Director Harold E. Varmus in an internal memo, which was first made public in December 2003 by The Times.
The Varmus memo “immediately” lifted all limits on outside income, reversed the prohibition against taking stock or stock options, and freed the top leaders — the directors of the research institutes and centers — to start making personal deals with companies.
At the same time, arcane rules wielded by NIH administrators were allowing more and more of the deals to remain confidential.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:52 AM | Permalink

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