Criticism by conservative members of Congress and right-wing groups has prompted a Senate hearing into studies supported by the National Institutes of Health that will be held Thursday, The Washington Post reports. NIH officials will respond to allegations of improper funding and financial conflicts of interest, including collaborations between agency scientists and drug companies. Last fall, congressional staff members sent a list of 200 NIH grants the conservative, antigay Traditional Values Coalition had prepared that the organization found objectionable, including many focusing on AIDS, sexual health, and homosexuality. In December, a story in the Los Angeles Times suggested NIH scientists had improper working relationships with drug companies.
NIH director Elias Zerhouni said last week that an internal investigation into the grants concluded all the studies in question were valid and addressed legitimate health issues. He also said the investigation found no evidence the working relationships between NIH staff members and pharmaceutical companies led to any undue influence by the companies on NIH research or policies. There are currently 242 active collaborations between NIH members and private industry, most commonly in the form of corporate payments to NIH researchers for expert advice. Zerhouni, while backing the idea of more openness regarding these working relationships to avoid perceptions of inappropriateness, said such collaborations are scientifically important by allowing researchers to apply their work to real world conditions.