March 3, 2024

Curb potential conflicts of interest, US science boss told

The US Office of Government Ethics (OGE) wants the National Institutes of Health to revise its revised ethical standards so that its scientists will not be involved in conflicts of interest. The head of the NIH, Dr Elias Zerhouni, recently submitted a draft of new regulations in response to reports that many officials and scientists had received millions of dollars in consulting fees and stock options from drug and biotech companies. Under the NIH’s guidelines these were perfectly legal, but they left the scientists open to allegations of undue influence and conflicts of interest.

The OGE has questioned whether intramural scientists should be allowed to do consulting work for outside companies. “Probably the most compelling argument that can be made for any absolute prohibition on consulting with drug companies is that some NIH officials actually are involved in making clinical decisions affecting the health and safety of patients and other intramural research subjects, and those subjects need to be confident that decisions about their care are free from any potential influence from extraneous business connections,” says the director of the OGE, Marilyn Glynn.

The OGE’s comments were attacked as “disturbing” and “punitive” by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Bans on consulting work would drive talented scientists out of government service, says its president, Dr Paul W. Kincade.