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December 11, 2006
Volume 84, Number 50
p. 11

Ethics

NIH Researcher Charged

Scientist faces criminal charges for accepting consulting fees from a drug company

Susan Morrissey

Federal criminal charges have been filed against National Institutes of Health scientist Pearson (Trey) Sunderland III for inappropriately accepting $285,000 in consulting fees and travel expenses from a drug company. He faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of $100,000.

The charges stem from Sunderland's activities from 1998 to 2004 when he served as chief of the Geriatric Psychiatry Branch at NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). During that time, his department sent hundreds of government-owned tissue and fluid samples from Alzheimer's patients to Pfizer for study. The conflict-of-interest problems arose when he accepted consulting and other fees from the company during this period without gaining prior permission or disclosing the income properly.

Allegations against Sunderland and other NIH researchers first came to light in 2004 and have been the subject of agency, congressional, and criminal investigations. As a result, NIH imposed a tough set of conflict-of-interest rules that limit the activities of its employees (C&EN, Sept. 5, 2005, page 14), and Congress held a series of hearings, with the most recent calling for the agency and the Department of Justice to take action against Sunderland.

Sunderland is now a special assistant and senior adviser in an external grant division at NIMH. Neither he nor his lawyer is commenting on the charges. NIH also will not comment because the situation deals with a "pending personnel issue."

When C&EN went to press, Sunderland was scheduled to be arraigned on Dec. 8.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society