Washington — Sen. Charles E. Grassley said this week he was investigating financial conflicts of interest among roughly 30 scientists at 20 research universities.
Senator Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has been making waves since last summer through his inquiries on the topic. He wrote pharmaceutical companies and requested details of their financial support to academic scientists, then asked the researchers’ universities about those scientists’ reporting of the monetary interests to those institutions. Under federal rules, academic scientists financed by the National Institutes of Health are required to make those disclosures, and universities are required to review and manage them.
Senator Grassley found instances where scientists reported smaller financial interests than they had received , and he began this month to release more details, starting with three psychiatrists at Harvard University and then, this week, a Stanford physician-researcher. (Stanford said in a statement that the faculty member, Alan F. Schatzberg, chairman of the psychiatry department, had followed its disclosure policy.) Mr. Grassley is expected to keep the heat on with more disclosures in coming weeks.
The NIH is also moving to take action, prodded by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which approved on Thursday a bill that would require the agency to consider stepping up its oversight of financial conflicts. The NIH’s director, Elias A. Zerhouni, had written Mr. Grassley last week saying that the agency had started such a review.
“I am hopeful that we can significantly enhance the identification and management” of conflicts, Dr. Zerhouni wrote.
In a statement, Senator Grassley said, “There’s mounting evidence that the NIH hasn’t done due diligence in keeping track of industry payments to medical researchers. With the objectivity and integrity of research at stake, along with public trust in the system, there are plenty of reasons for Congress to step in to establish penalties for grantees who fail to report financial conflicts and to bring transparency to taxpayer-funded medical research.”
For example, Mr. Grassley said, such researchers should face losing their NIH financing. —Jeffrey Brainard