Science  12 Dec 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5652, pp. 1875
  1. NIH, Congress to Investigate Consulting Fees

    After the Los Angeles Times published an explosive report this week on consulting fees and stock options paid to National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists, agency director Elias Zerhouni and a congressional committee announced that they would conduct inquiries of their own.

    The Times reported on 7 December that numerous NIH researchers—including a center and institute director—have received millions of dollars in fees from drug companies, in some cases from companies that had received funding from NIH or whose products were being tested by the institutes. The practice appears to have expanded after 1995 when then-NIH director Harold Varmus issued a memo that gave high-level officials more freedom to accept consulting fees. The House Commerce investigations subcommittee, already probing lecture awards to NIH officials, also stepped into the controversy, asking Zerhouni on 8 December to deliver a list of documents on all NIH consulting arrangements since January 1999.

    According to NIH spokesperson John Burklow, Zerhouni—who was in Sweden this week for the Nobel Prize awards ceremony—plans to have the Department of Health and Human Services ethics office take a look. Zerhouni is also reviewing “every outside consulting relationship” by NIH scientists within the past 5 years and will form a blue-ribbon panel to review NIH's policies on consulting. “NIH takes this issue extremely seriously. We are vigorously investigating these allegations, because openness and review are our best allies,” Burklow says.

  2. Rescue Proposed for Great Apes

    Concerned that the great apes could face extinction within 20 years, leaders from nearly three dozen countries met at UNESCO headquarters in Paris late last month, aiming to launch a rescue mission under the aegis of the United Nations' Great Apes Survival Programme (GRASP).

    The chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas of Africa, as well as the orangutans of Southeast Asia, are under threat from civil wars, poaching for meat, and destruction of their forest habitats. “The world has been guilty of collective negligence,” Ian Redmond, head of GRASP's technical support team, said at a press conference. The meeting adopted a proposed $25 million “global strategy” that includes money for research, monitoring, and conservation. Next, the plan goes before an intergovernmental meeting of ministers in late 2004.

  3. Last Lap for Choice of ITER Site?

    Japan and the European Union are busy dispatching last-minute envoys to other members of an international consortium this month, hoping to become the host of the world's first workable nuclear fusion reactor. Their goal is to line up enough support by a 20 December meeting in Washington, D.C., at which the consortium will choose the site of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

    Last week in Vienna, the ITER partners agreed that the host would pay about 45% of the $10 billion needed to build and operate the reactor. “A very important step has been taken: The total budget is now secure,” says Achilleas Mitsos, director-general of research at the European Commission and head of the E.U. delegation. But the attendees failed to choose between proposed sites in France and Japan.

    The wooing of delegations from Canada, China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States is intense, say observers, who hope that the end is in sight. “If there is no decision, it could damage the project,” says Satoru Ohtake of Japan's Office of Fusion Energy.

  4. Infectious-Disease Grantees Face Cuts

    Grant support from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is likely to be trimmed to finance the U.S. contribution to the Global HIV/AIDS Fund, according to agency officials.

    A 2004 spending bill now before Congress requires that NIAID redirect $150 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria—$50 million more than the president requested last spring. Because Congress didn't add the money to NIAID's overall budget, it will have to come from NIAID's nonbiodefense budget of $2.7 billion, says Ralph Tate, NIAID director of financial management. The institute plans to trim grants and contracts submitted for review in 2004. “We're trying to evaluate the best approach,” Tate says, including possibly making fewer awards or shortening the duration of grants by a few months. One rumor has it that the cut could appear as a 10% across-the-board reduction.