In a sweeping ethics reform initiative, the National Institute of Health announced earlier this month that their employees will no longer be able to serve in advisory or teaching roles for universities, pharmaceutical companies or health care providers due to a possible conflict of interest.

The decision comes in response to “the activities of a few employees” regarding consulting for pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said. As an interim regulation, the new NIH policy takes effect immediately but is potentially alterable in the future.

“Nothing is more important to me than preserving the trust of the public in NIH,” Zerhouni said. “I am confident that these new rules will prevent the recurrence of past abuses and will go a long way in preserving the historic role of the NIH as the primary source of unbiased scientific health information for the country.”

The regulation’s primary impact on institutions of higher learning is that NIH employees can no longer serve in university teaching or consulting positions.

“Compensated teaching, speaking, writing or editing, is now prohibited with or for educational institutions that receive NIH funding,” said Sheryl Goldberg, associate vice president of the Medical Center’s Office of Sponsored Research.

The regulation does, however, allow a few exceptions, including payment for continuing professional education, scholarly publishing, cash prizes for scientific achievement and teaching a course with multiple presentations, Goldberg said.

Amy DeMaria, director of communications for the medical center, said that the new NIH policy will have little impact on the quality of research at Georgetown.

“These new NIH conflict of interest rules will primarily affect NIH researchers who are paid by private industry – not faculty at universities such as Georgetown,” she said. “Few, if any, of our faculty members are employed by NIH.”

DeMaria said that NIH employees, however, can no longer accept speaking fees from universities, including Georgetown, for one-time speaking engagements.

Still, some Georgetown faculty members expressed concern at the regulation.

“Negating some of the most knowledgeable people in the world from disseminating their knowledge to the scientific community and/or the American public is wrong,” Stanley Fricke, assistant professor in the department of neuroscience, said.

“Georgetown actively tries to form ties between the medical center and the NIH. It is only natural to do so since the wonderful laboratories of the NIH go unrivaled in personnel and resources,” Fricke said. “To announce the closure of academic freedom and [the] honest pursuit of monetary gain will drain the best of the best from the campuses of the NIH.”

Fricke suggested that instead of preventing them, the NIH should be encouraging its employees to share their knowledge.

“I believe that the NIH should reverse its policy and require the opposite – that each employee should be required to lecture at least 40 days per year at universities so that their knowledge could be better spread. Perhaps the best way to do this is to set fixed `lecture fees’ that are commensurate with today’s lecture honorarium,” he said.

Pharmacology professor Karen Gale agreed that the new policy threatens to weaken the positive relationship between universities and the NIH.

“One serious concern that I see is the loss of productive scientific collaboration and cooperation that many institutions and foundations have had with scientists and administrators at the NIH,” Gale said.

Gale referred to one example involving NIH program officers on professional advisory boards, or boards of directors, of disease foundations.

“This involvement is incredibly valuable for coordinating funding activities, tracking long-term outcomes of seed funding and avoiding wasteful overlap between public and private sources of research support,” she said. “This valuable interaction may be lost as a result of the new policies.”

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In a sweeping ethics reform initiative, the National Institute of Health announced earlier this month that their employees will no longer be able to serve in advisory or teaching roles for universities, pharmaceutical companies or health care providers due to a possible conflict of interest.

The decision comes in response to “the activities of a few employees” regarding consulting for pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni said. As an interim regulation, the new NIH policy takes effect immediately but is potentially alterable in the future.

“Nothing is more important to me than preserving the trust of the public in NIH,” Zerhouni said. “I am confident that these new rules will prevent the recurrence of past abuses and will go a long way in preserving the historic role of the NIH as the primary source of unbiased scientific health information for the country.”

The regulation’s primary impact on institutions of higher learning is that NIH employees can no longer serve in university teaching or consulting positions.

“Compensated teaching, speaking, writing or editing, is now prohibited with or for educational institutions that receive NIH funding,” said Sheryl Goldberg, associate vice president of the Medical Center’s Office of Sponsored Research.

The regulation does, however, allow a few exceptions, including payment for continuing professional education, scholarly publishing, cash prizes for scientific achievement and teaching a course with multiple presentations, Goldberg said.

Amy DeMaria, director of communications for the medical center, said that the new NIH policy will have little impact on the quality of research at Georgetown.

“These new NIH conflict of interest rules will primarily affect NIH researchers who are paid by private industry – not faculty at universities such as Georgetown,” she said. “Few, if any, of our faculty members are employed by NIH.”

DeMaria said that NIH employees, however, can no longer accept speaking fees from universities, including Georgetown, for one-time speaking engagements.

Still, some Georgetown faculty members expressed concern at the regulation.

“Negating some of the most knowledgeable people in the world from disseminating their knowledge to the scientific community and/or the American public is wrong,” Stanley Fricke, assistant professor in the department of neuroscience, said.

“Georgetown actively tries to form ties between the medical center and the NIH. It is only natural to do so since the wonderful laboratories of the NIH go unrivaled in personnel and resources,” Fricke said. “To announce the closure of academic freedom and [the] honest pursuit of monetary gain will drain the best of the best from the campuses of the NIH.”

Fricke suggested that instead of preventing them, the NIH should be encouraging its employees to share their knowledge.

“I believe that the NIH should reverse its policy and require the opposite – that each employee should be required to lecture at least 40 days per year at universities so that their knowledge could be better spread. Perhaps the best way to do this is to set fixed `lecture fees’ that are commensurate with today’s lecture honorarium,” he said.

Pharmacology professor Karen Gale agreed that the new policy threatens to weaken the positive relationship between universities and the NIH.

“One serious concern that I see is the loss of productive scientific collaboration and cooperation that many institutions and foundations have had with scientists and administrators at the NIH,” Gale said.

Gale referred to one example involving NIH program officers on professional advisory boards, or boards of directors, of disease foundations.

“This involvement is incredibly valuable for coordinating funding activities, tracking long-term outcomes of seed funding and avoiding wasteful overlap between public and private sources of research support,” she said. “This valuable interaction may be lost as a result of the new policies.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.