Los Angeles Times
July 14, 2005


By David Willman

WASHINGTON -- Results from an ongoing internal review of drug company
consulting payments to scientists at the National Institutes of Health
show the agency's ethical problems are serious and widespread, a House
committee chairman said Wednesday.

The review examined whether a sample of 81 NIH scientists had
moonlighted for industry without getting required permission from the
agency, whether they disclosed company payments on annual forms and
whether they performed company services on government time.

More than half, 44, were found by NIH officials to have violated the
agency's then-existing policies or recommendations.

Excerpts from the findings, provided in recent days by NIH Director
Elias A. Zerhouni to three members of Congress, were obtained by the
Los Angeles Times.

"We discovered cases of employees who consulted with research entities
without seeking required approval, consulted in areas that appeared to
conflict with their official duties, or consulted in situations where
the main benefit was the ability of the employer to invoke the name of
NIH as an affiliation," Zerhouni said in a letter to the congressmen
dated Friday.

The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Joe
Barton (R-Texas), said Wednesday that the findings showed the "ethical
problems [at the NIH] are more systemic and severe than previously

Barton elicited the information by posing written questions to
Zerhouni in March. Barton's letter had been cosigned by the
committee's most senior Democrat, Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan.

The 44 scientists cited by the internal review "violated policies or
regulations and were recommended for administrative action," said the
summary of information that the NIH provided to the members of

Eight of the alleged violators have left the NIH and are not subject
to administrative action, the agency said.

Nine individuals -- none of whom were named in the agency's summary --
were referred for further investigation to the inspector general of
the Department of Health and Human Services.

After announcing an agencywide ban Feb. 1 on accepting company
consulting fees or stock, Zerhouni was urged by some NIH employees and
their defenders to relent.

Zerhouni has said he would continue to assess whether the new rules,
including a planned restriction against owning biomedical stocks, had
adversely affected the hiring and retention of qualified scientists.

The violations identified in the internal NIH review reflected a
partial examination of industry consulting deals that had involved
hundreds of agency scientists.

In spring 2004, after it was unable to obtain documentation from the
NIH of the extent of such deals, the House Energy and Commerce
Committee wrote to 20 companies and asked executives to voluntarily
identify consulting fees paid to NIH scientists.

Scores of other companies that employed moonlighting NIH scientists
were not contacted.

The information received from the 20 companies revealed 81 names that
were not on the list of moonlighting scientists that had, by then,
been delivered to the committee by the NIH.

The agency did not identify any of the 44 government scientists found
to have committed violations.

An NIH spokesman, John Burklow, said that officials had sought to
respect employees' rights to due process and privacy.

Zerhouni, in his letter to the members of Congress, said that because
the internal investigation was ongoing, "I request that all the
information provided in the enclosure [summarizing the findings] be
treated as confidential."

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times