NIH faces scrutiny for weak oversight of conflicts of interest

Here at FierceHealthcare, we've often received news of conflicts of interest that a researcher had and didn't disclose. In theory, however, there are some checks and balances that should help prevent this problem from getting out of hand. For example, NIH has significant financial leverage to improve quality in hospitals through its massive federal grants.

The agency has rules in place under which the universities are to require researchers to report significant financial interests. According to those rules, the university is supposed to report to the NIH what it has done to reduce or eliminate conflicts of interest.

But critics say that NIH is doing little, if anything, to actually enforce conflict-of-interest rules. This October, for example, NIH suspended a grant to Emory after Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) raised questions about a potential conflict of interest. But note that neither the university nor the NIH caught this: a senator did!

Now, under pressure from Congress and others, the NIH says it is going to crack down on conflicts of interest. Time will tell if this is all talk or if they will find a way to finally address this problem.

To learn more about the NIH's struggles:
- read this Wall Street Journal Blog piece