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Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Bad Medicine at NIH?

The Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday that several key people at the National Institutes of Health have received consultatation payments from pharmaceutical companies that call their impartiality and integrity into question:

"Subject No. 4" died at 1:44 a.m. on June 14, 1999, in the immense federal research clinic of the National Institutes of Health. The cause of death was clear: a complication from an experimental treatment for kidney inflammation using a drug made by a German company, Schering AG.

Among the first to be notified was Dr. Stephen I. Katz, the senior NIH official whose institute conducted the study. Unbeknown to the participants, Katz also was a paid consultant to Schering AG.

Katz and his institute staff could have responded to the death by stopping the study immediately. They also could have moved swiftly to warn doctors outside the NIH who were prescribing the drug for similar disorders. Either step might have threatened the market potential for Schering AG's drug. They did neither.

This has been going on since rules were changed in the mid-90s.

While pharmaceutical companies routinely do their own valid research, the co-opting of NIH scientists seems troubling to me. the NIH is supposed to be impartial. As the story says later, NIH scientists are among the highest-paid government employees, so it isn't like these researchers can claim poverty. Now two members of Congress would like some answers:

Two congressional leaders on Monday called upon the director of the National Institutes of Health to account for all payments that drug companies have made to researchers at the federal agency over the past four years.

The leaders — Reps. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) and James C. Greenwood (R-Pa.) — said that their letter was in response to articles in Sunday editions of the Los Angeles Times detailing millions of dollars in consulting fees and stock options paid by companies to NIH employees.

Read the whole stories.

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06:00 AM in Science | Permalink


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