DHHS, NIH News  
NIH Office of the Director (OD)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bonnie Flock,
OD Office of Communications
and Public Liaison

NIH Statement Regarding House Hearing on Human Tissue Samples

Attribution: John Burklow, NIH spokesman

NIH’s position on ethics is clear: any conflict of interest resulting in an individual personally profiting from official government research activities cannot be tolerated. We are committed to maintaining the public’s trust in NIH and its scientists as an unbiased source of biomedical research guidance and advice. The case under consideration concerns events that began in 1998 — after the NIH ethics rules concerning outside activities were relaxed — and that ended before the new rules were put in place. NIH has previously referred this case to the relevant authorities for appropriate action.

It is important to note that the specific consulting arrangements in question, had they been known to NIH, would not have been approved under the present or previous ethics regulations. Outside consulting connected to an NIH employee’s official government duties has always been prohibited at NIH.

NIH has undertaken a comprehensive review of its activities and conflict of interest policies in the last few years. As a result of that process, on August 25, 2005, NIH implemented comprehensive ethics rules that make it clear what NIH scientists can and cannot do in regard to outside activities. These new rules removed any ambiguity about what is allowed or not allowed. Here are two important points:

  • Under new NIH regulations, all NIH employees are now prohibited from engaging in outside employment with pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies in their private capacities — period.
  • Collaboration and partnership with industry can nonetheless be very valuable in scientific pursuits and NIH rules allow such activities, as long as they are undertaken through an officially approved Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).

Although we cannot discuss this particular case because it remains under investigation, we can speak to the relevant issues that it raises.

Collaborations among scientists that involve human tissue samples are common and essential for science. There are, however, stringent rules in place to protect the participants who donated their samples, and to ensure that there is full informed consent.

We share the Committee’s concerns in regard to the ethical management of human tissue samples and the development of rigorous and uniform policies to protect the public’s trust and interests, while advancing science to address important public health problems. The thousands of scientists who work at NIH have always been and remain committed to these principles.

The Office of the Director, the central office at NIH, is responsible for setting policy for NIH, which includes 27 Institutes and Centers. This involves planning, managing, and coordinating the programs and activities of all NIH components. The Office of the Director also includes program offices which are responsible for stimulating specific areas of research throughout NIH. Additional information is available at http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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