NIH releases new conflict of interest proposals

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Thursday released new proposals to prevent financial conflicts of interest among researchers who receive federal funding.

According to NIH Director Francis Collins, who announced the new guidelines, they represent “a substantial change in the way NIH seeks to oversee potential financial conflicts of interest and will make some differences for investigators . . . in terms of disclosure requirements."

“We need to be clear that in order to preserve the public trust in the objectivity of biomedical and behavioral research, all research has be conducted without bias and with the higher scientific and ethical standards," he added.

The new guidelines include a provision that reduces from $10,000 to $5,000 the minimum threshold reporting requirement for researchers. The guidelines also make institutions—rather than investigators—the responsible party in deciding whether a particular relationship is a potential conflict of interest, which means, Collins said, institutions will be required to establish a process where it will have to review those potential conflicts of interest, identify those that may need an intervention, and report actions taken to the NIH.

The proposals also have a disclosure component, Collins said. Institutions will be required to develop a website that should publicly display the “significant” financial interests of their faculty and other institutional members in order to add more transparency.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who for several years has been investigating the issue of conflicts of interest in federally funded research, said Thursday that “disclosure of financial relationships and the resulting accountability have been sorely lacking in federally sponsored research” and that the NIH proposals were a step in the right direction.

“I’m interested in meaningful transparency and more accountability,” Grassley said.  “Letting the sun shine in and making information public is basic to building people’s confidence in medicine.  And with the taxpayer funding that’s involved, people have a right to know.  Public trust and public dollars are at stake.”

The NIH proposal is now open for public comment for 60 days.