Financial conflicts of interest that could bias researchers funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) are rare, a report released last week found: About 3% of the 55,600 grants the agency awarded in 2018 involved at least one researcher reporting such a conflict. But some experts question whether the data are capturing all relevant conflicts.
The 25 September report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), NIH’s parent agency, follows a 2008 OIG analysis that found NIH was not collecting adequate data on financial conflicts, such as payments from drug companies for consulting or royalties from patents. The report helped prompt HHS to tighten its reporting rules, which now require investigators to tell their institution about all conflicts related to their institutional duties. The institutions then tell NIH about those that could bias an NIH-funded research project and explain how the conflict will be managed.
A decade on, NIH’s improved tracking system allows a count for the first time. OIG found that in 2018, 202 of 2064 grantee institutions reported any financial conflicts of interests. A total of 1668 unique grants had at least one conflict. In total, 3978 separate “significant financial interests” were reported, because grants can have more than one investigator, and each investigator can have several types of conflicts.