WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley is asking the National Institutes of Health to explain why it has awarded a $400,000 medical research grant to a physician who it banned from NIH funding in recent years for failing to disclose a $1.2 million financial relationship with a major pharmaceutical company while leading a $9 million federal study involving that drug company’s blockbuster depression drug Paxil.
“It’s troubling that NIH continues to provide limited federal dollars to individuals who have previously had grant funding suspended for failure to disclose conflicts of interest and even more troubling that the Administration chose not to require full, open and, public disclosure of financial interests on a public website,” Grassley wrote to NIH Director Francis Collins.
Last year, the Obama administration scrapped a proposed conflict of interest rule that would have required universities to disclose financial relationships between medical researchers and the pharmaceutical industry to be posted on publicly available websites. “The Office of Management and Budget in the White House, which had final say over the matter, should have supported the policy that every institution post financial conflicts of interest on a public website,” Grassley said.
Grassley has pursued an extensive campaign for disclosure of payments made by drug and medical device makers to physicians since 2007, when he began to expose dramatic disparities between what was reported and what was, in fact, received. Grassley’s oversight of industry payments also has extended to medical schools, medical journals, continuing medical education, and non-profit patient advocacy organizations.
One of those cases involved the doctor receiving the grant in question today, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff. In 2008, documents revealed that Nemeroff, who was then chair of Emory University’s psychiatry department, failed to disclose that he received $1.2 million in consulting fees from GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Paxil, while leading federal research on the treatment of depression. Nemeroff left Emory University and was then hired by Miami University. The Director of the National Institute of Mental Health within NIH weighed in on Nemeroff taking this new position. While the NIH said that Nemeroff could not receive federal medical research dollars for two years, the ban has expired and, regardless, it did not apply to him in a position at a new university.
In addition, Nemeroff remains under investigation by the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is working with the Department of Justice on the case. In his letter today, Grassley asked the NIH if this was considered. "There has been no final resolution by DOJ or public finding by HHS OIG related to the investigation of Dr. Nemeroff. Yet, NIH awarded him another grant,” he said.
Grassley said the decision by NIH “risks sending the wrong message to physicians seeking or performing federally funded research.”
Click here to read Grassley’s letter to the NIH, which he also sent to the President of the University of Miami, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala.