Disclosure rule for federal researchers gets diluted


Institutions can wait for written requests to disclose federally-funded researchers’ financial ties to pharmaceutical companies and other corporate interests, according to a final rule issued by the Health and Human Services Department Thursday.

This is a change from the proposed rule brought by the agency in May 2010, which would have required institutions to post information about conflicts of interest on a publically available website.

The final rule requires research institutions to determine if a researcher’s financial ties or interest in an outside company could bias or present a conflict of interest with federally funded research. It would apply to HHS’s National Institutes of Health, which received $32 billion in the President’s proposed 2012 budget. More than 80 percent of that is dedicated for research.  

The Office of Management and Budget was reviewing the rule before its final issuance.  A source close to the review told Nature magazine that an OMB official had pushed for the removal of the website requirement. Sen. Chuck Grassley has asked the Office of Management and Budget for internal communications that could reveal why the requirement was limited and by whom.

In his former seat on the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley, R-Iowa, found instances where researchers were receiving money from the federal government to study drugs from companies to which they also had financial ties. The written request option is a barrier that institutions can hide behind if they don’t want to readily disclose information, he said in a statement.

“This is a missed opportunity to inject transparency where it’s really needed,” said Grassley, now ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “With less public scrutiny than we could have had, we’ll lose a valuable layer of oversight.”


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