In a case that highlighted possible ethics oversight at the NIH, federal prosecutors in December charged a senior Alzheimer disease researcher with conflict of interest for earning $285,000 in consulting fees from a drug company.
Trey Sunderland, MD, chief of the geriatric psychiatry branch of the NIMH, is accused of providing Pfizer Inc. with more than 3,500 samples of human CSF and plasma from Alzheimer disease patients and controls that had been collected for his government research.
A June 13 report from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce stated that Dr. Sunderland failed to seek approval for and disclose in his financial report filings more than $600,000 paid by Pfizer from 1998 to 2004. Of this amount, $285,000 was paid for consulting work related to the samples. Simply procuring the samples from 538 subjects, which chronicled the progression of Alzheimer disease over several years, cost $6.4 million, the report states.
A colleague of Dr. Sunderland blew the whistle in 2005, when she became concerned about missing CSF samples, and contacted NIH officials and the House committee. As a result of the investigation, Michael M. Gottesman, MD, deputy director for NIH Intramural Research, told the House committee that the agency will begin to require that all transfers of samples be documented and reviewed by senior leadership at the relevant institute.