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September 5, 2005
Volume 83, Number 36
p. 14

CONFLICT OF INTEREST

NIH Issues Final Ethics Rules

Agency eases restrictions but maintains ban on outside consulting activities

Susan Morrissey

NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni PHOTO BY SUSAN MORRISSEY

Zerhouni

Just six months after instituting a strict and controversial interim set of ethics standards, the National Institutes of Health has issued its final ethics regulations. The revised rules maintain the ban on outside consulting activities with drug and biotech companies but no longer require widespread limits on stock holdings in such companies.

Reported in the Federal Register on Aug. 31, many of the rules are consistent with those issued in February (C&EN, Feb. 7, page 8), with two key exceptions. The first change deals with stock limitation and divestiture. Under the February rule, all employees were subject to a $15,000 limit on drug and biotech company stocks, and about 6,000 senior employees were required to divest all of their stock. Now, only about 200 senior employees and their families will face a limit of $15,000 in stock per company. Any required divestitures must be made by Jan. 30, 2006.

The final rules also remove the ban placed on outside activities with scientific and professional organizations. Such interactions will now be allowed with prior approval.

The softer rules have been well-received among NIH employees. General comments indicate that the new rules will make it easier to retain the agency's scientists and clinical researchers.

Although Congress--which has an ongoing investigation into conflict of interest at NIH--has not yet released any official reaction, NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni believes the final rules will be met with approval. "Congress should be fully assured that we addressed the fundamental issue of public trust and integrity of science," he says.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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