In December 2008, psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff, then at Emory University, was sanctioned for not disclosing more than $1 million from drug companies to promote their products in academic publications. His punishment: Emory barred him from receiving grants for 2 years. But those 2 years have come and gone, and in May, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Nemeroff, now at the University of Miami, a 5-year, $401,675-a-year grant to study posttraumatic stress disorder.
Shortly after the grant was announced, however, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), an activist for public disclosure of financial relationships in the biomedical fields, wrote a letter to the NIH questioning the decision. “Please explain how the NIH arrived at this decision to award Dr. Nemeroff despite past ethical problems,” Grassley wrote. “Although NIH has recently revamped its conflict of interest guidelines, this decision risks sending the wrong message to physicians seeking or performing federally funded research.” Furthermore, he noted, the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have been collaborating on an investigation of Nemeroff, and the results of that query have yet to be released.
Earlier this month, NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak responded to Grassley, the blog Pharmalot reported. He explained that peer reviewers weren't told about the OIG and DOJ investigations because they are confidential. "Absent any finding by the OIG or other actionable grounds at this time to exclude Dr. Nemeroff, the NIH followed standard procedures," Tabak wrote. In addition, the NIH specifically asked the University of Miami about potential conflicts of interest, noted that the research does not involve the testing of any drugs, and stated that a reviewer that used to work with Nemeroff (Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health) recused himself from the review process. "I want to assure you that all procedures have been followed carefully in the process of awarding this specific grant to the University of Miami," Tabak wrote.
(Hat tip to ScienceInsider.)