From now on, the legions of investigators who look to the National Institutes of Health for research support will have to comply with finalized rules requiring them to detail any financial ties they have with biotech, pharma and medical device companies--whether it's cash or stock--past the $5,000 mark. But federal officials scuttled a proposed requirement to make the ties readily available to the public online, insisting that they can achieve the transparency they're looking for by requiring the institutions the researchers work for make the information available when asked--following a game plan they won't have to reveal.
These new rules, which NIH director Francis Collins unveiled in a hurried session with reporters on Tuesday, have been in the works since revelations about millions of dollars in undisclosed payments between pharma companies and researchers forced officials to begin a review two years ago.
The NIH provides tens of billions of dollars to researchers each year, making it the single largest source of support for scientists at work in the drug field. The NIH wanted to come up with a way to require researchers to detail their ties to biopharma companies, without preventing them from doing the work or making it overly burdensome on the institutions that have to manage the information. That last concern, officials said, caused them to pull back from a proposed rule demanding that the financial ties be readily accessible by the public.
"We depend critically on those [relationships] for advances in biomedical research, but we do want to make sure...that the highest standards of transparency and integrity are maintained," Collins told reporters. But a variety of advocacy groups immediately took the NIH to task for falling well short of the required mark for its conflict rules.
"They're playing hide the ball on this," Paul Thacker, from the Project on Government Oversight, told the Washington Post. "The take-home message is that these are half steps. [NIH] could have taken steps that ensured the trust of American taxpayers who are funding this research, but they chose not to take those steps."