Some UI faculty members concerned with new strings attached to federal research dollars

BY BETH BRATSOS | MARCH 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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Some University of Iowa faculty members are concerned about federal rules governing conflicts of interest in government-funded research.

Under new rules from federal Public Health Service — which oversees the National Institutes of Health — researchers at universities that receive NIH funding, such as the UI, will have to disclose more details about possible conflicts of interest in research. For instance, when the policy goes into effect this summer, a researcher getting paid by a company that might be affected by the research would have to disclose more information to federal authorities.

Kathy Hancock, an assistant NIH grants-compliance officer, said one of the few requirements under the old policy was to disclose a few basic details about conflicts of interest in research, but researchers didn't have to give much information.

"Basically, the whole reason behind why [revisions were made] was pressure from Congress and from the public for greater transparency and increased oversight on NIH's part," she said. "University of Iowa has a lot of Public Health Service-supported research, so it will definitely be of significance."

Hancock also said the old rules gave investigators the responsibility to determine whether financial interest was related to research. If the individual or group did not decide it was related, the conflict was not reported to the institution or the NIH. The new regulations move that responsibility to the institutions overseeing the research, and when a financial conflict of interest arises, they are required to report it to NIH within a certain amount of time.

UI law Professor Sheldon Kurtz and UI economic Associate Professor John Solow voiced strong concerned over some of the language in the new policy.

Kurtz said he disliked the new policy defining an entity as a for-profit, non-UI organization, and he would rather return to the old language of requiring all investigators to disclose potential conflicts with nonprofit organizations.

"My concern is, why, if UI investigators have an interest in a nonprofit organization, or an income flow from it that funds their research — why that doesn't have to be disclosed?" he said.

Solow said the new policy isn't clear enough about what makes a sufficient link between a potential conflict of interest and its relation to the research and what investigators are required to disclose.

Kurtz said he opposed the regulations because the Faculty Council doesn't understand them, nor would the Faculty Senate be the right body to approve such a complex order.

But Faculty Senate President Richard Fumerton disagreed, saying he was confident the new policy would come with easily understandable guidelines on what a researcher should disclose.

"Some version [of the new regulations] is going to be approved," he said "If it's going in the [UI] operations manual, I would like the Senate to have approved it."

Hancock also said the new policy would require institutions to przovide sufficient training on the new regulations.

"The institution has a responsibility to develop a policy and make it available," she said.

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