ScienceScope

Science  13 Jun 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5882, pp. 1407
  1. More Political Heat on NIH

    The U.S. Congress is ramping up its investigations into how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) monitors financial conflicts of interest among grantees.

    One high-profile case involves Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital child psychiatrist Joseph Biederman. Last week, as first reported in The New York Times, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) alleged that Biederman and two colleagues had failed to report to their institutions hundreds of thousands of dollars in income from consulting for a half-dozen or so drug companies. Grassley has asked Harvard whether the researchers broke university rules that prohibit faculty members from conducting clinical trials of products made by companies from whom they have received payments exceeding $20,000. Grassley, who has accused NIH Director Elias Zerhouni of “lax” oversight of extramural research, wants to require drug companies to report all payments to physicians in a public database.

    Also last week, two Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked Zerhouni to look into whether two Cornell University researchers studying a new screening test for lung cancer had to disclose a financial stake in the study's outcome. Democrats on the committee have leveled similar accusations at rival researchers leading an NIH-funded clinical trial (Science, 2 May, p. 602).

    Harvard and NIH say investigations are under way, including a “systemwide review of policies” at NIH. In the past, NIH has said it lacks the authority to directly monitor conflicts of interest involving its grantees and instead relies on universities to police themselves. Grassley's letter to NIH says he is looking at cases involving more than 20 other universities.

  2. A Smart Investment

    BERLIN—Berlin officials like to joke that the city is “poor but sexy.” Now they can add “and smart.” Despite chronic budget shortfalls, Berlin's city government has pledged €160 million ($250 million) over the next 4 years to attract top researchers to the city's universities and institutes. The “Berlin International Forum for Excellence” has the chance to make Berlin “one of the most important locations for research in the world,” said Jürgen Zöllner, the city's senator for science and education. Augmented by private donations, the funding will be used to top up salaries of world-class researchers, set up graduate schools in “areas of excellence,” and attract visiting scholars.