NIH Cutting Ties With Private Research Donors?

In early 2018, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) chose to halt a study that was likely to yield data that cast the alcohol industry, from which it receives private donations, in a favorable light. That decision has cast scrutiny on industry relationships across the NIH, and the agency recently announced new steps to safeguard its research and reputation.

NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, told The New York Times, “We have to do everything we can to ensure the integrity of the NIH grants process and the quality of our research is above reproach, which means worrying about conflicts.”

In a report on how it will handle conflicts of interest (COIs) involving private donor support of its research projects, the agency called for officials to more rigorously vet COI disclosures, examine the motives of private donors, and ensure that the NIH is making final decisions about trial design and data analysis. NIH officials plan to make the final policy recommendations publicly available in early 2019. Approximately $1 billion in private money has been distributed to the 27 NIH research institutes over the last 22 years – a small fraction of the now more than $30 billion the NIH invests annually in medical research.

Critics worry that the reforms will not stop private industry from influencing research meant to support public health and argue for stricter separation between the public and private spheres. Some have suggested that NIH research should be exclusively funded by the federal government, or, at the very least, only unrestricted private funds should be accepted.

Source: The New York Times, December 13, 2018.