ScienceScope

Science  08 Aug 1997:
Vol. 277, Issue 5327, pp. 755
  1. Tobacco Deal Spells End of Research Money

    Buried in the settlement now being worked out between tobacco companies and public health advocates is a provision that may extinguish a cherished source of grants for biomedical researchers. If adopted, the agreement could cut off funds for the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), which hands out $20 million a year to individual investigators—the bulk of the industry's support for academic research. Anticipating a shutdown, the CTR has suspended its grant-giving program. “It seems imprudent to make new grants at this time,” says James Glenn, CTR's president.

    Snuffed out.

    Tobacco deal would kill industry-supported biomedical research fund.

    CTR, now 43 years old, has stopped processing new awards, because the deal signed in June by tobacco companies and several states to settle class action suits calls for CTR's termination. Although the settlement still awaits approval by Congress and the White House, Glenn says CTR has notified its grantees—including about 50 new investigators a year—that it's no longer business as usual. However, CTR will continue grants committed to earlier.

    “Our grantees are extremely upset,” Glenn says, and understandably so. But CTR's critics are delighted. “It's entirely appropriate to disband this organization,” says pulmonologist David Burns of the University of California, San Diego. The critics contend that the organization, while supporting peer-reviewed, independent research, has served to create the impression that there is a scientific controversy about whether cigarettes cause disease (Science, 26 April 1996, p. 488).

    Indeed, Assistant Attorney General Tom Green of Massachusetts—one of the states that helped forge the agreement—explains that many of the lawsuits that have been filed against the industry alleged that CTR was part of a conspiracy to put out disinformation. “It's typical to call for dissolution of an entity if you have a conspiracy,” says Green. Glenn, however, insists that “there's absolutely nothing the Council for Tobacco Research has ever done that's dishonest, unethical, or fraudulent.”

    But there may be a silver lining for CTR-funded researchers: The settlement also calls for the tobacco companies to establish a $25 billion public health trust fund that will in part support “tobacco-related medical research.” Burns says he expects a minimum of $100 million a year will go toward such research—five times as much as the council now spends.

  2. Scientist in Line for High-Level DOE Post

    Physicist Ernest Moniz, the White House has announced, is in line to become the undersecretary of the Department of Energy (DOE)—the number three official at the agency. This is welcome news to researchers, who hope to gain a high-level advocate for science programs at the department. Moniz's role is all the more important in Secretary Federico Peña's DOE because neither Peña nor Deputy Secretary Elizabeth Moler has a science background.

    But DOE scientists aren't celebrating yet. Moniz, now chair of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's physics department, must be officially nominated and then approved for his new job by the Senate, which isn't likely to vote on the nomination for several months. In the meantime, DOE science officials and lab managers say they are concerned they won't have a champion as they gear up for the battle over the 1999 budget request this fall. Moniz is certain to encounter little opposition, however. He has already cleared the Senate once, when he was confirmed in his last federal job, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

  3. Diabetes Efforts to Get $300 Million

    Tax breaks for hard cider producers and a bailout for the city of Washington, D.C., aren't the only miscellaneous provisions folded into the tax and budget bills passed by Congress last week. There was also a plum for biomedicine—$300 million to be spent over the next 5 years on type I or juvenile-onset diabetes. Of this total, one-half is earmarked for diabetes prevention and treatment, mainly through the Indian Health Service. And Congress directs the Department of Health and Human Services to spend $150 million “directly or through grants” to finance “research into the prevention and care of type I diabetes.”

    Bill Schmidt, government relations director for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International, says that research advocates have been “working closely with [House Speaker] Newt Gingrich this year” on the boost in diabetes funding, which Gingrich inserted into the budget bill with “strong support” from the White House. The money will come from an increased tax on tobacco, says Schmidt.

    As for who will be in charge of spending the $150 million of research funds, Schmidt says, “it's pretty clear it would go” to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for competitive, peer-reviewed awards. Gary Kleiman, executive director of the diabetes institute at the University of Miami, says “We applaud the new funding,” but he hopes the money will go to clinical studies, because “diabetes has been cured in the mouse model a dozen times.”

    The windfall appeared so suddenly that officials at NIH, which now spends more than $300 million a year overall on diabetes research, weren't sure how it might be used. But it is clear that Congress intends it to be an add-on to the NIH appropriation, which will come up for a vote in the House and Senate next month.

  4. Court Lets Justice Mull Academy Case

    The Justice Department is still on the fence as to whether it should fight alongside the National Academy of Sciences in the academy's legal struggle over whether it must follow government openness laws (Science, 25 July, p. 473). Last week, the Supreme Court granted Justice a 30-day extension to file a petition supporting the academy. Justice staffers “honestly just can't make up their minds,” says one official. A government petition would make the court more likely to take the case.

    Some department attorneys favor taking on the case because there is widespread support for the academy's position within federal agencies, sources say, but others fear doing so could reopen previous decisions on openness rules better left closed. The academy, meanwhile, filed a petition on 4 August asking the court to hear why it need not abide by the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

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