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Commentary: A Delicate Balance: Weighing the Effects of Conflict-of-Interest Rules on Intramural Research at the National Institutes of Health

Gottesman, Michael M. MD; Jaffe, Holli Beckerman JD

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181fa3f91

In 2005, in response to increasing public concerns about potential conflicts of interest in biomedical research, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) tightened its ethics rules to prohibit National Institutes of Health (NIH) employees from receiving consulting fees from “significantly affected organizations.” In response, NIH took steps to implement these regulations and ensure that relationships between intramural NIH researchers and industry could proceed without threatening the integrity of federally funded research. Examples of these steps include creating an ethics advisory committee to review outside activities of NIH scientists and subjecting its researchers to special scrutiny to eliminate any perception of personal profit or conflict of interest. In the authors' experiences, interactions between NIH scientists and industry have continued relatively unaffected by these regulations. The continuing success of the technology transfer program at NIH and the number and types of cooperative research and development agreements with industry are good measures of the extent of productive interactions with industry since the implementation of the 2005 ethics rules. Although recruitment of outstanding scientists to the intramural program has continued, these regulations also have challenged NIH's ability to attract and retain some of the most qualified scientists, who fear they may miss certain opportunities because of the tighter regulations. As DHHS revises the regulations governing oversight of financial conflicts of interest in the extramural community, the authors recognize that the NIH intramural experience may provide valuable lessons about developing and implementing the next generation of financial conflict-of-interest rules.

Author Information

Dr. Gottesman is deputy director for intramural research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

Ms. Jaffe is senior policy officer, NIH Ethics Office, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Gottesman, National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Building 1, Room 160, Bethesda, MD 20852; telephone: (301) 496-1921; fax: (301) 402-4273; e-mail:

Editor's Note: This is a commentary on Zinner D, DesRoches C, Bristol S, Clarridge B, and Campbell E. Tightening Conflict-of-Interest Policies: The Impact of 2005 Ethics Rules at the NIH. Acad Med. 2010;85:1685–1691.

© 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges