NIH Asks for Input on Closing Loophole in Conflict-of-Interest Rule

Responding to yet another flap about the influence of drug companies on biomedical research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has decided it needs more time to revise its rules for policing conflicts of interest so that sanctions will move with an investigator if he or she changes institutions.

In May, the agency proposed new regulations that, among other changes, would require NIH-funded investigators to report more financial interests to their universities. But, a month later, news emerged that Charles Nemeroff, who was banned by EmoryUniversity in 2008 from seeking NIH grants after he failed to report drug-company income, escaped that punishment simply by moving to the University of Miami. NIH Director Francis Collins said the case had exposed a gap in the conflicts rule. NIH is now trying to close the loophole.

Toward that end, it's adding 30 days to the comment period for the rule, which closed yesterday, to gather comment on "whether it should clarify how the regulations apply in circumstances in which an Investigator or a PHS-funded research project transfers from one Institution to another, or in which a new Institution, and Investigators at the new Institution, become involved in an ongoing PHS-funded research project," says a notice NIH released today. (PHS stands for Public Health Service, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, NIH's parent agency.) The new deadline is 19 August.

NIH had received more than 70 comments (see docket here) on the rule so far from universities, patient-advocacy groups, bioethicists, and others. But some major research organizations, such as the Association of American Medical Colleges, have not yet weighed in.