The leaders of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are finally giving serious consideration to an idea they have rejected for years: public disclosure of grantees' financial arrangements that may create conflicts of interest.
At present these financial arrangements (for example, payments to a grantee serving as a consultant for a drug company) are supposed to be disclosed to researchers' institutions—but not to the public, and in general not even to the NIH. But this could all change soon. From the NIH's batch of newly proposed rules:
"We propose to introduce at subsection (a)(5) an important and significant new requirement to help the biomedical and behavioral research community monitor the integrity and credibility of [Public Health Service]-funded research and underscore our commitment to fostering transparency, accountability, and public trust. Specifically, we are proposing to amend the regulations to require that, prior to the Institution’s expenditure of any funds under a PHS-funded research project, the Institution shall make available via a publicly accessible web site information concerning any SFI [significant financial interest]..." (Emphasis POGO's)
Public disclosure of financial arrangements has been resisted for many years by almost the entire biomedical research community: by the researchers themselves, by their institutions (with a few notable exceptions), and by the NIH itself. Fortunately, NIH director Francis Collins has realized that public disclosure is an essential element for controlling financial conflicts of interest, and that internal policing by the institutions is not enough. In a September 2009 interview with The New England Journal of Medicine, Collins said, "I personally am in favor of the idea that sunshine is the best disinfectant. The idea of having a public database where all investigators disclose what kind of financial arrangement they have with outside organizations is a good thing."
Find out more about this issue in POGO's letter to NIH Director Francis Collins.
-- Ned Feder