NIH to Review Conflict Policies

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Science  18 Dec 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5397, pp. 2165
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5397.2165b

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will take a closer look at the outside consulting fees earned by its scientists. This week, in response to a congressional query about an NIH scientist who received thousands of dollars in drug company fees, NIH director Harold Varmus requested a review of his agency's conflict-of-interest policies.

On 7 December, the Los Angeles Times reported that Richard Eastman, chief of the diabetes division at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), had received speaking fees for several years from the Warner-Lambert Co. of Morris Plains, New Jersey. Eastman told the Times that he did not take part in decisions affecting company products while he was a consultant, but he was in charge of a clinical trial that included a Warner-Lambert diabetes prevention drug called troglitazone. Last summer, after a patient taking the drug died, the NIDDK dropped the drug from the trial.

The story prompted Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA, above) to send Varmus a two-page list of questions about the case on 7 December. A “concerned” Varmus responded by asking the inspector-general of the Department of Health and Human Services to examine whether NIH staff involved in the case complied with federal conflict-of-interest guidelines. His staff is also reviewing how NIH's two dozen institutes and centers apply the rules, with an eye toward clarifying them.

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