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Senate Panel Takes Aim at Conflicts of Interest in Academic Research

Too little and too late.

Senate Panel Takes Aim at Conflicts of Interest in Academic Research

Washington â The National Institutes of Health would be required to step up its oversight of financial conflicts of interest among university researchers under an amendment adopted today by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The amendment, which was added to a spending bill for the NIH and the Education Department that the panel passed, 26 to 3, is a response to recent accounts that some researchers have underreported earnings from drug companies. Its adoption comes a day after Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a Republican of Iowa, sent a letter to his colleagues on the Appropriations Committee urging them to âadd some teethâ to the regulations that govern conflicts of interest in outside research.

âResearchers need to be put on notice that government grants come with obligations of financial disclosure,â he wrote.

The letter also took aim at the agency itself, calling its oversight âlax.â It cited a report issued in January by the Department of Health and Human Servicesâ inspector general, who found that the agency had failed to investigate hundreds of conflicts of interest reported by universities. In its response to that report, the NIH said that it was following existing regulations.

The amendment adopted today would require the NIH to update those regulations âfor the purposes of strengthening oversight.â

âWe need to hold the NIHâs feet to the fire,â said Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat of Iowa and member of the panel.

The underlying bill, whose higher-education provisions were otherwise unchanged from Tuesdayâs subcommittee vote, would provide a $1-billion increase for the NIH and a $69 increase in the maximum Pell Grant.

— Kelly Field
Chronicle of Higher Education
2008-06-26


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