UI backs researchers’ disclosure on funds

BY ZHI XIONG | JUNE 19, 2009 7:21 AM

Two influential entities want university researchers to submit to tighter rules on disclosing external funding they receive, and UI officials lauded the effort to flush out potential conflicts of interest.

In fact, they are ready to say as much to the National Institutes of Health, which will ultimately decide after a comment period.

“It’s a good opportunity to respond to the call and give our input,” said Jordan Cohen, the UI interim vice president for Research.

The American Association of Medical Colleges and the Association of American Universities submitted a letter June 10 pushing for stricter regulations. They want researchers to report financial interests to their institutions regardless of the amount.

And they want the NIH to do its part by cutting in half its threshold for receiving such reports. At present, a researcher who receives $10,000 from external sources deemed a potential conflict of interest must have their institutions report such funding to agencies from which he or she seeks more money.

The medical and university associations’ call for more consistent oversight of financial ties echo recommendations from as early as 2001. Because the policy has not changed in years, the NIH decision is highly anticipated.

And the issue has consistently made headlines, not limited to public research institutions. In March, hundreds of students and some faculty at Harvard Medical School vocalized demands for greater transparency about industry ties.

“This letter was one major input,” said Cohen, and the issue has been a hot topic at major research universities in the past few years. “They will be a very influential group.”

The UI, which has not had “major problems” regarding conflicts of interest, has assembled a group to generate comments for the NIH, Cohen said.

The university operational manual has a chapter devoted to conflict of interest policy. The university also has a Conflict of Interest in Research Committee with members from several departments that mulls over such issues each month, according to its website.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, strongly supports the proposed changes, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges.

“The research community could have avoided a lot of the problems we see today with great discrepancies and disregard for policies, if it had listened to the Association of American Universities and the American Association of Medical Colleges in 2001, when they made recommendations along the same lines,” he said, according to a June 12 release.

The NIH will take comments on the associations’ suggestions until July 7.

DI reporter Emily Melvold contributed to this article.

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