Conflicts of Interest May Send NIH Researcher to Prison

For the past two years, I've been following on the ongoing troubles of Dr. Trey Sunderland, one of America's leading Alzheimer's researchers, accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Pfizer while working for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Federal prosecutors charged Sunderland Monday with accepting almost $300,000 over a five-year period from Pfizer in consulting fees for Alzheimer's related work while overseeing the company's dealings with the NIH.

Those criminal conflicts of interest -- the first leveled against a NIH official in nearly 14 years -- could send Sunderland to prison for as much as a year and command a $100,000 fine. In the meantime, rather incredibly, Sunderland remains employed by the NIH, protected from termination and any disciplinary action because he's a member of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. In response, the NIH called their dealings with Sunderland "a pending personnel matter."

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich) who becomes chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee next month probably summed up my feelings on the matter the best: Will a criminal conviction for conflict of interest be enough to get someone fired from the NIH?

For the record, more than 500 NIH scientists have received fees, stock or stock options from biomedical companies. And that's merely a drop in the bucket, considering the evil marketing geniuses that keep drug companies flush with cash spend $10,000 annually to influence the prescribing habits of nearly every American doctor, including, I suspect, your own.

Yahoo News December 4, 2006

Los Angeles Times December 5, 2006