NIH Director Says Nemeroff Case Reveals Gaps in Conflict Rule

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins today responded to a flap about a psychiatrist who failed to report drug-company income and avoided his university's punishment by moving to a new university. The incident, Collins says, has exposed gaps in the federal conflict of interest (COI) regulation that NIH hopes to address.

Speaking to his advisory board, Collins discussed a story this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education about former Emory University faculty member Charles Nemeroff. After a Senate probe found that Nemeroff failed to report at least $1.2 million in outside income, Emory banned Nemeroff from receiving NIH grants for 2 years in December 2008. But as The Chronicle reported, he was eligible to apply for grants a year later when he took a job at the University of Miami. "The sanctions applied to the institutions and not to the investigator," Collins explained.

The "silver lining to this story," Collins said, is that "it brought to light NIH grants policies that may need to be addressed." He said that as part of a revision of the COI rules, NIH is looking into "how can we improve NIH's ability to make sanctions or penalties continue to apply to individual researchers even if they move to another NIH-funded institution." NIH is also reviewing its policies for participating in peer review and advisory committees "in circumstances of this sort," he said. As The Chronicle reported, Nemeroff is serving on two NIH peer-review panels.