There are vulnerabilities in how financial conflicts of interest are handled by NIH-funded researchers, according to a report (PDF, 46 pages) released today by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General. Among the findings:
- 90 percent of the grantee institutions rely solely on the researchers’ discretion to determine which financial interests are required to be reported
- because nearly half of the grantee institutions do not require researchers to provide specific amounts of equity or compensation on their financial disclosure forms, specific financial interests of NIH-funded researchers are often unknown
- grantee institutions do not routinely verify the information submitted by researchers about their financial interests
- some grantee institutions lack documentation to support their oversight of financial conflicts of interest
- the majority of grantee institutions do not have policies and procedures that address subgrantee compliance with federal regulations regarding financial conflicts of interest
- conflicts were not reported by grantee institutions to NIH in a consistent format
- grantee institutions are not required to report to NIH any financial interests that they have with outside companies
The inspector general’s review focused on the 41 grantee institutions that submitted financial conflict-of-interest reports to NIH in fiscal year 2006.
The review found that the most common financial conflict of interest is equity ownership (including stock and stock options) in companies in which the researchers’ financial interests could significantly affect the grant research.
Other financial conflicts of interest among researchers involved inventing technology, consulting, or holding positions with outside companies. To manage financial conflicts of interest, grantee institutions often require researchers to disclose conflicts in research publications; however, grantee institutions rarely reduce or eliminate financial conflicts of interest.
The report includes a number of recommendations – that it has previously recommended – to improve the reporting of financial conflicts of interest.