NIH Staff Must Report Payments
The director's edict comes as
the agency is pressed over consulting fees from drug firms.
May 21, 2004
WASHINGTON — The director of the National Institutes of Health
is requiring agency employees to report the financial details of
any consulting payments received from drug companies over the
last five years or face dismissal, a spokesman said Tuesday. The
edict from the NIH director, Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, comes as the
agency is facing increased pressure from congressional leaders
to rescind policies and practices that have fostered potential
conflicts of interest involving agency scientists.
Spokesman John Burklow of NIH said Zerhouni informed agency
leaders of his demand on Tuesday and would deliver a formal letter
by Friday. As many as 500 NIH scientists who have maintained paid
arrangements with pharmaceutical or biotechnology firms must
comply "as a requirement and condition of their
employment," Burklow said. The financial information is to be
turned over to members of Congress.
Zerhouni's toughened approach is an acknowledgment that the ethics
changes he has announced in recent weeks have not satisfied
congressional concerns over payments to the agency's scientists
from drug companies.Indeed, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said
Tuesday that the changes made or agreed to by Zerhouni so far are
constructive "but not nearly enough." Speaking at a
hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight
and investigations, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said that unless
NIH accepted "a blanket restriction on outside compensation,
serious conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of
interest will continue."
In a related development, the subcommittee chairman, Rep. James
C. Greenwood (R-Pa.), criticized NIH officials for approving
a cancer laboratory chief's consulting deal. The approval,
Greenwood said, possibly undermined NIH in developing, with
a separate company, a test for ovarian cancer."There are few situations more
destructive of public-private partnerships than this one,"
Greenwood said, referring to $49,375 in consulting fees collected
from one company over the past 17 months by Dr. Lance A. Liotta of
the NIH's National Cancer Institute. "This isn't
transparency," Greenwood said. "This is an
The fees were paid to Liotta by Biospect Inc., based in South San
Francisco. Greenwood told the hearing that Biospect was a
competitor of a Maryland firm, Correlogic Systems, with which
Liotta had been collaborating, in his official capacity, to
develop a test for the early detection of ovarian cancer.
Development of such a test might save lives, according to
specialists, because by the time that later-stage ovarian cancer
causes symptoms, the disease often is incurable. Ovarian cancer
is expected to kill about 16,000 women this year in the U.S.,
according to the American Cancer Society. "If such a product
is delayed, it is a tragedy for women and their families,"
said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Policy
Research for Women & Families, a nonprofit group. "We
deserve [government] researchers and decision-makers who are free
from the bias inherent in financial ties to the pharmaceutical
Liotta's fees had not been open to public view because he was one
of many NIH employees exempted from public disclosure of their
outside income. The consulting arrangements with Biospect of both
Liotta, chief of the cancer institute's pathology laboratory, and
Emanuel F. Petricoin, a senior microbiologist at the Food and Drug
Administration, were first reported Tuesday by the Los Angeles
Times. Since 2002, Liotta and Petricoin have been designated by
NIH and the FDA to collaborate with Correlogic Systems in a formal
cooperative research and development agreement. Both men appeared
before the subcommittee Tuesday. Liotta testified that he had been
unaware of any common research goals between his consulting
client, Biospect, and his government partner, Correlogic Systems.
When he learned "new information" last week, he said,
"I terminated my relationship with Biospect."
Liotta, 56, noted that his consulting deal had been approved by
officials within the National Cancer Institute. For his part,
Petricoin testified that the FDA had approved his work as a paid
consultant to Biospect and that he had "performed to the
highest ethical standards." He said FDA officials had
informed him May 7 that the approval to consult for Biospect had
been withdrawn because the company's future products are apt to
be regulated by the agency.
"I certainly would never knowingly pursue or continue any
outside activity which I felt was in conflict with a career spent
as a scientist in the pursuit of public and patient benefit,"
said Petricoin, who is 39. According to Greenwood and others,
Correlogic complained last July to the cancer institute's deputy
director, Anna Barker, about Liotta's consulting deal with
Biospect. "Knowing what we know now," Barker told the
subcommittee, "we probably would have disapproved this
The subcommittee's focus on the consulting deals resulted from a
report in December by The Times documenting hundreds of payments,
totaling millions of dollars, by drug companies to NIH scientists.
The Times also reported that more than 94% of the agency's
top-paid employees were not required to publicly disclose outside
income. Greenwood said later Tuesday that he intended to hold a
third hearing, focusing on other possible conflicts of interest at
NIH, next month.
Times researcher Janet Lundblad in Los Angeles contributed to
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