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Zerhouni Bolsters Ethics Oversight At NIH with Committee, Panel

NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni established a new NIH ethics advisory committee (NEAC) last fall and in January, 14 members were appointed to that committee. He also announced that, effective Jan. 12, HHS had named NIH deputy director Dr. Raynard Kington as deputy ethics counselor (DEC) for NIH and the Office of the Director.

Kington has DEC responsibility for institute and center directors and their deputies, and for scientific, clinical and extramural directors. All incumbents in those posts were asked to provide Kington, within 30 days, copies of their most recent financial disclosure reports, along with a complete copy of all other ethics-related documents and records.

The NEAC, which is overseen by Kington, was given three primary responsibilities: provide supervisory review and, if appropriate, approval for all outside activity and award requests submitted by appointed or acting OD senior staff and IC directors; advise Kington on all outside activity and award requests submitted by IC deputy directors, scientific directors, clinical directors and extramural directors; and advise Kington about requests submitted by any other NIH employee as follows: 1) cash awards where compensation is equal to or exceeds $2,500, including travel reimbursement; 2) outside activities with biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies; 3) outside activities where total anticipated compensation exceeds $10,000, or is expressed as future income stream; and 4) activities for which the compensation proposed is stock, stock options, or other equity position.

The NEAC membership includes cochairs Kington and Dr. Michael Gottesman, NIH deputy director for intramural research; NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander; Dr. Lore Anne McNicol, director, Division of Extramural Research, NEI; Dr. Harvey Klein, chief, transfusion medicine, CC; Dr. Nancy Nossal, chief, Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology, NIDDK; Dr. Cheryl Corsaro, scientific review administrator, CSR; Dr. Eric Green, scientific director, NHGRI; Dr. Joseph Fraumeni, director, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, NCI; Dr. Jeremy Berg, director, NIGMS; Dr. John La Montagne, deputy director, NIAID; Dr. Faye Calhoun, deputy director, NIAAA; and ex officio members Holli Beckerman Jaffe, NIH ethics officer, and Gretchen Weaver, HHS attorney.

Additionally, Zerhouni has asked Dr. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Dr. Norman Augustine, chairman of the executive committee of Lockheed Martin, to co-chair an NIH blue ribbon panel on conflict of interest policies to examine the guidelines governing consulting activities of NIH scientists.

Zerhouni established the blue ribbon panel as a working group of the advisory committee to the director (ACD). The panel will consist of an ACD member, a member of the NIH director's Council of Public Representatives, and distinguished outside experts, who will be selected in consultation with the co-chairs.

In announcing the Alberts-Augustine panel, Zerhouni said, "I look forward to the panel's recommendations on how best to ensure complete transparency, full disclosure, independent review, and continuous monitoring of activities."

Specifically, the panel's charge is to: 1) review the existing laws, regulations, policies and procedures under which NIH currently operates regarding a) real and apparent financial conflicts of interest of NIH staff where compensation or financial benefit from outside sources is received, including consulting arrangements and outside awards, and b) requirements and policies for the reporting of NIH staff's financial interests, including which interests are subject to public disclosure, and what portion of NIH staff file public disclosures; 2) make recommendations for improving existing laws, regulations, policies and procedures as appropriate; 3) complete the review and development of recommendations within 90 days; and 4) provide recommendations to the ACD, for deliberation and final recommendations to the director, NIH.

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